Understanding the Idiom: "square away" - Meaning, Origins, and Usage

Idiom language: English

The origins of this idiom are unclear, but it has been used in American English for over a century. Its versatility makes it a popular choice for expressing various ideas related to tidiness, completion, and resolution.

Origins and Historical Context of the Idiom “square away”

The idiom “square away” is a common phrase in the English language that has been used for centuries. Its origins can be traced back to maritime terminology, where it was used to describe the process of aligning a ship’s sails and rigging so that they were perpendicular to each other.

Over time, the term began to be used more broadly to describe any situation where something needed to be organized or put in order. Today, it is often used in a military context, where soldiers are instructed to “square away” their gear or equipment before heading out on a mission.

The historical context of this idiom is also tied closely with American culture and values. The idea of being well-organized and prepared for any situation has long been seen as an important aspect of American identity, particularly within military circles.

Usage and Variations of the Idiom “square away”

The idiom “square away” is a versatile phrase that can be used in various contexts to convey different meanings. It is often used to describe the act of organizing or putting things in order, but it can also refer to completing a task or resolving an issue.


While the basic meaning of “square away” remains consistent across different contexts, there are variations in how it is used. For example, some people might say “get squared away” instead of just “square away,” which emphasizes the need for action and urgency. Others might use the phrase as part of a longer sentence, such as “let’s square away these documents before we leave.”


The idiom “square away” can be used in both formal and informal settings. In business settings, it may be used to discuss tasks or projects that need completion before moving on to other work. In personal conversations, it may be used when discussing household chores or errands that need attention.

Example Sentences:
“I need to square away my schedule for next week.”
“Let’s square away this misunderstanding so we can move forward.”
“Can you help me square away this paperwork?”

Synonyms, Antonyms, and Cultural Insights for the Idiom “square away”


Word Definition
Organize To arrange or put in order
Settle To resolve or come to an agreement on something
Tidy up To clean or make neat and orderly


Word Definition
Disorganize To cause disorder or confusion
Neglect To fail to take care of something properly
Mess up To make a mess of something

The idiom “square away” is commonly used in American English. It means to organize or put things in order. This phrase has military origins and was used by sailors to describe aligning the sails with the ship’s course. In modern usage, it can refer to completing tasks or preparing for an event.

Synonyms for “square away” include words like organize, settle, and tidy up. These words convey similar meanings but may be used in different contexts depending on the situation. On the other hand, antonyms such as disorganize, neglect, and mess up have opposite meanings that suggest disorder or chaos.

Understanding the synonyms and antonyms of “square away” can help you better communicate your intentions in various situations. Additionally, knowing the cultural context behind this idiom can help you use it appropriately and effectively in conversations with native English speakers.

Practical Exercises for the Idiom “square away”

Exercise 1:

Think of a task or project that you have been putting off and use the idiom “square away” to describe your plan for completing it. For example, “I need to square away my taxes before the deadline.”

Exercise 2:

Create a dialogue between two people where one person uses the idiom “square away” to discuss their plans for organizing an event or trip. The other person should respond with questions or comments about what needs to be done. For example:

“I’m going to square away all the details for our camping trip next weekend.”

“What do we need to bring? Have you reserved a campsite yet?”

Exercise 3:

Write a short paragraph describing how someone could use the idiom “square away” in a work setting. For example, “In order to meet our deadline, we need to square away all of our research by Friday.”

By practicing these exercises, you can become more confident in using the idiom “square away” correctly and effectively in everyday conversations and written communication.

Common Mistakes to Avoid When Using the Idiom “square away”

When using the idiom “square away”, it’s important to understand its meaning and usage in context. However, there are some common mistakes that people make when using this phrase that can lead to confusion or misunderstanding.

Avoiding Literal Interpretation

The first mistake to avoid is taking the idiom too literally. While “square” may suggest a geometric shape, in this context it actually means “to put in order” or “to organize”. Therefore, it’s important not to interpret the phrase as referring to an actual square shape.

Using Incorrect Prepositions

An additional mistake is using incorrect prepositions with the idiom. The correct preposition following “square away” is usually “with” or “on”. For example: “I need to square away my schedule with my boss.” Using other prepositions such as “at” or “in” can create confusion and make your sentence sound awkward.

  • Avoid taking the idiom too literally
  • Use correct prepositions (with/on) after “square away”

By avoiding these common mistakes, you can use the idiom correctly and effectively communicate your intended meaning. Remember that idioms are often used informally and may not be understood by everyone, so be sure to use them appropriately and in appropriate contexts.

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