How is "from the top" synonymous to "from square one"? According to the dictionary, it means "from the beginning", but I don't see any valid entry for "redesigned from the top", which means "redesigned from square one". We say things like "redesigned from the top down" and other phrases that have completely different meaning? Is there a reason why "from the top" is never used in the way we use "from square one"?

  • Are you asking for a clarification of the exact differences in usage, or why those differences came to exist in the first place? The latter is much harder to explain than the former. -the short definitions given don't encapsulate the whole meaning of the phrases
    – katatahito
    Commented Jul 11, 2019 at 0:49
  • the former, because it doesn't seem to be used all that much. When the meaning suggest it should be used as such, but is never used like that from a quick glance.
    – Sayaman
    Commented Jul 11, 2019 at 0:51

1 Answer 1


According to the idiom dictionary:

from the top

  1. From the very beginning. Used in reference to the performance of something, especially a song.

No, no, no—you're still coming in too early with that high note, James. Let's take it again from the top, everyone!

I think this is a much fuller definition. "From the top" sounds like it comes from "from the top of the page". Since music or plays are written out on paper, to start from the beginning of a song/play/scene, one would start performing from the top of the page. This would be in contrast to starting in the middle or towards the end which would not be at the top of the the symbolic page.

This phrase is especially used during rehearsal of such performances, where one may be practicing a specific (difficult) portion of a scene. Once that portion is sufficiently practiced, a director would ask to see the scene/song/etc. from the top to see if the performers are able to integrate what they practiced into the larger performance.

"From square one" relates to to entry in dictionary for "back to square one"

back to square one

  1. Back to the very first stage of something; returned to an initial starting point.

  2. If someone is back to square one or back at square one, they have failed completely in what they were trying to do, and now have to start again.

Negotiations have broken down, and it's back to square one.

This idiom is used to refer to the beginning of processes and not the beginning of performances. It is similar to "back to the drawing board", and indicates that the speaker has failed something and now must restart some process. It is reminiscent of a board game, where pieces progress through the game by proceeding through a sequence of squares, and may have to start their progress over by start back at the first square.

One example of its usage could be someone trying to figure out what day of the week all 5 of their friends can get together. If they had confirmed with 4 of the friends on a day, time, and location, but then the fifth friend isn't free that day ... then they have to start their planning all over. They are back at square one or have to start from square one.

  • Is "from square one" related to the children's game of "hop-scotch"?
    – Jasper
    Commented Jul 11, 2019 at 1:38
  • 1
    @Jasper - More likely Snakes and Ladders, perhaps? From Etymonline.com: Square one "the very beginning" (often what one must go back to) is from 1960, probably a figure from board games.
    – J.R.
    Commented Jul 11, 2019 at 1:51
  • Another possibility (and the one I learned) is that it relates to the early days of BBC radio commentary for football matches, which divided the pitch into numbered regions, and so “back to square one” would mean that the ball had returned to the area in front of the home team's goal.  But it seems there's little evidence for that phrase actually being used, and it isn't known in print until 1952, long after those visual aids were abandoned.
    – gidds
    Commented Jul 20, 2021 at 18:36

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