Learn idioms with comprehensive meaning, examples and origin details.


back to the drawing board

back to the drawing board

– back to the planning stage.
– start again on a new design or plan after the failure of an earlier attempt
– back to the beginning because the current attempt was unsuccessful

1. My experiment was a failure, so I’m back to the drawing board.
2. Sometimes the best way to proceed after a mistake is to start over and go back to the drawing board.
3. I think we should go back to the drawing board with our design, and try to make it better this time.
4. If our proposal is not accepted, we’ll go back to the drawing board.
5. Well, it’s back to the drawing board for John – his proposal was rejected by the boss again.
6. The client rejected all our proposals, so we had to ask the consultant to take the project back to the drawing board.

Drawing board This term has been used since World War II as a jocular acceptance that a design has failed and that a new one is needed. It gained common currency quite quickly and began appearing in US newspapers by 1947, as here in the Walla Walla Union-Bulletin, Washington in December 1947:

“Grid injuries for the season now closing suggest anew that nature get back to the drawing board, as the human knee is not only nothing to look at but also a piece of bum engineering.”

It was well-enough known by 1966 for it to be used as a title for an episode in the ‘Get Smart’ TV series, and has also been used as the title of several books.

A drawing board is, of course, an architect’s or draughtsman’s table, used for the preparation of designs or blueprints.

The phrase originated as the caption to a cartoon produced by Peter Arno (Curtis Arnoux Peters, Jr.), for the New Yorker magazine, in 1941. The cartoon shows various military men and ground crew racing toward a crashed plane, and a designer, with a roll of plans under his arm, walking away saying, “Well, back to the old drawing board”.

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