three squares: Idiom Meaning and Origin

What does ‘three squares’ mean?

The idiom "three squares" refers to the act of having three proper and fulfilling meals in a day. It emphasizes the importance of regular and nourishing eating habits.

Idiom Explorer

Understanding Three Squares

Three squares is an idiom that is commonly used in American English. It refers to the three meals eaten in a day, namely breakfast, lunch, and dinner. This phrase has its origins in the concept of dividing a day into three equal parts and allocating one meal for each part.

Although the exact origins of the idiom are unclear, it is believed to have originated in the early 19th century. The term "square" in this context is derived from the idea of something being fair or just. It implies that a person is receiving a fair allocation of meals throughout the day, ensuring their basic sustenance and well-being.

The idiom gained popularity and became widespread in the United States during the mid-20th century. It was commonly used in various settings, including military barracks, where soldiers were provided with three square meals a day as part of their standard rations. This association with the military further solidified the usage and understanding of the idiom among the general population.

Today, the phrase "three squares" is still in use and is easily understood by English speakers. It is often used colloquially to indicate the completion of one's meals or to express satisfaction with a satisfying meal. The idiom has become ingrained in the language and is a familiar and relatable concept to many.

While the idiom primarily refers to meals, it can also carry a broader symbolic meaning. It can be used figuratively to represent the basic necessities or comforts in life. When someone says they have "three squares a day," they often imply that they have all they need for their well-being, not just in terms of food but in a more general sense.

One related idiom is "square meal." A square meal is a wholesome and substantial meal. It is a term used to refer to a well-balanced and nutritious meal that provides all the necessary sustenance. The usage of the idiom "square meal" can be traced back to the early 19th century as well. It emphasizes the idea of a filling and complete meal, satisfying one's hunger and nutritional needs.

Another related idiom is the "three-martini lunch." This idiom dates back to the mid-20th century and refers to a lavish and indulgent lunch that includes the consumption of three martinis or other alcoholic beverages. This phrase gained popularity in corporate and business settings, particularly in the advertising and entertainment industries. It became associated with a leisurely and extravagant lifestyle, often depicting a time when business deals were made over a leisurely and boozy lunch.

The idiom "three squares" is deeply rooted in American culture, originating from the tradition of dividing the day into three equal parts and allocating one meal to each part. It has become a common and familiar phrase, signifying the three meals eaten in a day and, more broadly, representing the basic needs and comforts of life. The related idioms "square meal" and "three-martini lunch" add further depth to the understanding and usage of the idiom, highlighting the importance of wholesome and satisfying meals as well as the indulgence and luxury associated with certain dining experiences.

Example usage

Examples of how the idiom *three squares* can be used in a sentence:

  • I try to eat three squares a day to maintain a healthy diet.
  • After days of camping and eating only snacks, I was yearning for a proper three squares meal.
  • Back in the old days, people used to work hard and eat three squares a day without complaining.

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