Fair and Square

Someone asked me a question the other day that made me very happy. I’ll tell you what the question was first before I tell you why it made me happy. The question was: “Why do we say ‘fair and square’ and not ‘fair and circle’ or ‘fair and triangle’?”

I love it when students think about the language- it means you are having fun with it, trying to make sense of it, engaging with it. What more could an English teacher want?

And now for the answer. Apparently, ‘square’ is considered a synonym for ‘solid’ or ‘steady’, ‘fair’ or ‘complete’. Many idioms in English are based on rhyme and¬†repetition to drive the point home. That is how we have phrases like ‘time and tide waits for no man’. ‘Time’ and ‘tide’ both meant the same thing at the time this expression was coined. In the same way, ‘fair and square’ mean the same thing, and also rhyme, which made them ideal for putting together in an expression.

If you’d like to know more about this subject, feel free to look it up. The study of the origins of words is know as Etymology. Type this in as your keyword and you’ll get a satisfying list of sites. Have fun, and do check back in to share your links with us if you find any good ones.

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