I had the pleasure of having lunch with two lady friends today, and I was talking about the idiom blog (this one) that I write. I told them today I was going to write about “fair and square” — you know winning a game “fair and square” — so I asked them what they thought it meant.
One lady said the phrase meant “equal, so equality”; the other lady said “honesty”.
So, what does it mean? According to Webster’s New World College Dictionary “fair and square” is defined as “with justice and honesty”. Justice and honesty doesn’t sound anything like fair and square so how in the world did we come up with a phrase where we think everyone should know what we mean by it. (That is what idioms is all about anyway.)
When I think of fair, the first visual cue that enters my mind is going to a fair to see the side shows and the animals and ride the rides; then, I think of fair skies — the clear, blue skies with not a cloud in sight; then, I think of being fair (light in color) skinned. So far, these definitions have nothing to do with justice. I guess I could use fair and square to describe a person who is of light skin and is a “square” — you know, being rigidly conventional, a “square”. Now that is funny, because years ago when you were a “square” you were considered honest, traditional and loyal — words and phrases evolve.
Looking further into the word “fair”, it can also mean according to the rules, just and honest, and to treat both sides without personal biases, without deceptions. Justice. Ahhh, so fair can mean just and honest.
Once again, the first vision I have of the word “square” is the four right angles in making a square box. Then, comes my dear idioms — going back to square one, try putting a square in a circle, a square meal… but, fair and square doesn’t really enter my thought process unless if I just won something “fair and square”.
Square could mean (according to its use in the sentence) to make even, to adjust, to bring into alignment (here’s the equal thought the first lady had), and even a score among the many definitions. Then there is clear, direct and straightforward. It’s coming closer to the meaning for “fair and square: Searching further, “square” also means just, fair and honest. Hold on, that’s the same meaning as fair.
We have two words “fair” and “square” that both mean the same “just and honest”.
So, although “fair and square” is considered an idiom, in the grammar world it could also be called a tautology, “using more than one word to say the same thing, usually to emphasize a fact”. Think of a free gift. Gifts are free or else they are not gifts. Think of a fatal murder. A murder is fatal.
Next time I hear that a game was won, an item was gotten, a gift received “fair and square” I will know it was received with more than honesty. It was with honesty and justice. It was “fair and square”.
Until Tuesday…have a great day…