And he that talked with me had a golden reed to measure the city, and the gates thereof, and the wall thereof. And the city lieth foursquare, and the length is as large as the breadth: and he measured the city with the reed, twelve thousand furlongs. The length and the breadth and the height of it are equal. And he measured the wall thereof, an hundred and forty and four cubits, according to the measure of a man, that is, of the angel.
- Revelation 21:15-17 (King James Version)

The earliest occurrence of the term foursquare appears various chapters in the King James Version of the Bible. In 1604, King James I of England sanctioned a new translation. Finished in 1611 the Authorized Version, or King James Version, swiftly became used for English-speaking Protestants. Since then its graceful speech and prosaic cadence has had a profound influence on the literature of the last three centuries. All of the KJV verses refer to building of holy places of worship from the slaves fleeing Egypt in Exodus and Ezekiel’s visions of the house of Israel to John’s New Jerusalem in Revelation.

Foursquare means having four sides and four angles that are equal or quadrangular. As an adjective it can illustrate a square and can also be used to portray a “firm, unwavering conviction or expression (as in} forthright: a foursquare refusal to yield. As an adverb it's used describe a manner of being forthright or squarely. Used as a noun foursquare os also a child's ballgame played by four players standing in “one of four boxes drawn on the ground in a two-by-two grid and must bounce a ball into another player's box without holding the ball or stepping out of bounds.“

Be there or be square

No one really knows where the term originated but by the 1790’ American colonists in Philadelphia were calling their city blocks laid out in a crisscross pattern 'squares.' At the start of the 1800’s square meant just or honest, as in a square fight and within three decades horsemen were using 'square' as a way to express the innate, even pace of a high-quality horse by using terminology like a square-gaited mount or a square trotter. By 1836 people were using square meals to talk about a complete meal and in 1882 eating properly meant having three squares a day. By the 1850s to square illustrated putting a matter straight and eventually it meant to repay an outstanding debt. Square talk appeared in the popular parlance in 1860, twenty years later card players were using the term square deal and by 1920 a square shooter was a frank and honest person. But it was Theodore Roosevelt who popularized the term in his 1913 autobiography where he urged big business to give the people a square deal.

Right after World War II the word went from meaning honest and solid became an antonym for hip or hep or chic, at least in the US. Anyone who didn’t appreciate jazz and swing was square. Spread by bop and cool musicians in the late 1940s and early 50s, and then by beatniks and hippies, who used it pejoratively to refer to old-fashioned people and conformists. The expression widened to include someone who was out of touch, conformist, behind the times or not with it. By the 1950’s "Be there or be square" was commonly used.

Square is also a term common to freemasonry as in 'one of us'. The square is one of the signs of the Order. Something being 'foursquare' as in exactly matching - i.e. all four corners fit was popularized in the 1980's, when editor, Clem Labine of Old-House Journal published a commentary that brought post-Victorian architecture, and the Foursquare as a vanguard of contemporary design. A number of sources assert that the Foursquare is an offspring of the boxy, conventional style that was fashionable during colonial America. Others categorize the Foursquare as a changeover from the Victorian styles and the bungalow.


The American Heritage® Dictionary:

Bible Gateway:

Flaxner, Stuart Berg, Listening to America, (Simon and Schuster, New York, 1982).

The Phrase Finder:

for mauler.