Back To The Drawing Board


The phrase back to the drawing board means to start over again because a plan failed to come together; going back to square one.

This expression describes an idea that went wrong and it’s implied that changes are needed if success is to be found the next time.

Example: My sink has been leaking lately, so I thought I would use what little plumbing knowledge I have to try and fix it. After several failed attempts, I think it’s time for me to go back to the drawing board to figure out what I’m doing wrong… or maybe I should just call an actual plumber instead.

Synonyms / Similar Phrases:

1. Back to square one
2. Back to where we started

Going back to the drawing board. / Paul Bradbury

The Origin of ‘Back To The Drawing Board’

The Idea Behind ‘Back To The Drawing Board’

Before creating something complex, a drawing board (also called a drawing table or architect’s table) might be used to design it first. On these boards, you can make a basic outline of what needs to be done and plan out how it should be created. It’s like making a blueprint for your project.

For example, an architect uses a drawing board to plan the measurements of a house before its built. He can also figure out how he wants the interior of the house to look like and where each room would be placed. This helps the architect get a clear idea on how he wants everything to look like overall once it is finished. Then, while the house is being built, if anything goes wrong, the architect might go back to where his plans first started—the drawing board! He would go back here to make any necessary modifications.

The Origin

The origin of this phrase is believed to come from an American artist named Peter Arno. He wrote a cartoon for the New Yorker in 1941. The cartoon consists of a crashed plane in the background, and there’s a man dressed in a suit walking away from the crash site, saying:

“Well, back to the drawing board.”

The suit wearing man in the cartoon looks like he is carrying some blueprints, so perhaps he designed this plane. If that’s the case, hopefully the next one won’t go so poorly!

Example Sentences: Back To The Drawing Board

  • After a month on this new diet, I still weigh the same as I did before. I guess it’s back to the drawing board for me.
  • I built a miniature race car, but the wheels do not turn properly. Time to go back to the drawing board so I can figure out a solution.

Note: Sometimes, a phrase’s origin is not known. When that happens, I’ll usually include any explanations or theories that talk about where the expression comes from. If no plausible sounding theory exists, then the earliest known quote of the idiom in print should be included on the page. This can give you an idea on how old the idiom is.

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