What Does Fair and Square Mean?

Fair and Square Meaning

Definition: Just and unequivocal; Honestly and by following the rules.

Origin of Fair and Square

This expression usually appears in the context of winning a game, race, or other contest. People often use it to counter claims of cheating in an argument that they won something without cheating. Additionally, people can use it to discuss a business arrangement that they want to stress is proper and legal.

Square usually refers to a geometrical shape, nowadays. However, it has another meaning that is synonymous with fair. This use dates back in the 1500s.

Imagine a person tells you something that you think is a lie. That person might insist it is the truth by saying, I promise, I’ve been square with you!

This idiom itself originated in the 1600s.

An early example of this phrase can be found in the 1637 The Gentleman Dancing Master:

  • You are fair and square in all your dealings.

Despite the fact that the words fair and square are synonymous, and therefore redundant, the expression has remained popular for hundreds of years, due to its rhyme.

Sir Francis Bacon, a prominent Englishman, may have been the first to use the expression.

To see the difference between fair and fare, see here.

Examples of Fair and Square

to be fair and square

The first dialogue shows a brother and sister having lunch with their parents for a New Year’s celebration.

Luke: Mom and Dad, I hope you like all this food I prepared.

Mother: It seems quite elaborate and expensive. Are you sure you can afford all this food?

Ella: Don’t worry, Mom. Luke earned that money fair and square.

Father: What do you mean?

Luke: I got the money as a reward for winning a boxing match.

Mother: Well, as long as you obtained the money through honest means, I suppose that’s fine.

idiom fair and squareThe second example shows two friends who are playing cards.

Ray: Uno!

Ricardo: This should keep you from winning. Look, I just changed the card color to blue.

Ray: I win! My final card was blue!

Ricardo: What? I can’t believe that. You must have cheated!

Ray: No way! I won that game fair and square!

More Examples

This excerpt is from an article about a car race.

  • “I’m going to race these guys just like I do every single week,” Truex said. “I have not thought about any desperation moves. I don’t plan on being in that position. I think a perfect scenario is to go out there and race them heads up and beat them fair and square. That’s how I approach racing. That’s how I plan on doing it Sunday.” –Houston Chronicle

This excerpt is from an article about a couple that bought a city street.

  • “They bought it fair and square,” San Francisco Supervisor Aaron Peskin said of the married couple. “Having said that, we are going to determine if the treasurer/tax collector followed the law as it was written.” –USA Today


The phrase fair and square means truthfully and without cheating.