English Idiom – Square the circle

Meaning – To try to do something that is impossible. An attempt to do something that is extremely difficult and is unlikely to be successful.

This idiom references an ancient geometry problem – the challenge of constructing a square with the same area as a given circle by using only a finite number of steps with compass and straightedge (ruler). This problem was found to be impossible to solve, therefore this expression became a metaphor for trying to do the impossible.

If you go back to square one on something you are starting again.


When could you use this idiom?

  • Two parties have a disagreement and reaching some kind of agreement looks impossible.
  • A colleague wants you to complete an assignment for them, but you are both unable and unwilling to help them.
  • Political rivals disagree about a policy change and they both refuse to negotiate.
  • “You’ll have to square the circle to get the Democrats and the Republicans to agree on this!”
In The News:
  • Is there an idiom like this in your country?
What is an idiom?

An idiom is a word or phrase that is not taken literally.  An idiom is an expression that cannot be understood from the meanings of its individual words, but has a separate meaning of its own.