The expression Be There or Be Square is a popular idiom, used mostly in American English, that essentially functions as an ultimatum. In other words, if you want to remain in good standing with your friends – or be considered “cool” – you’ll need to attend the event they’re inviting you to. The phrase is often used as a way of convincing someone to come along to something, whether it’s a party or another type of gathering, by inducing FOMO in them. Although it is not as popular as it was decades ago, it is still widely used as a witty invitation, due to its rhyming nature.
Today “Be There or Be Square” can be encountered in conversations, as well as memes and even GIFs.
“Be There or Be Square” has been around for quite some time, though its exact origins are unknown. It’s possible that it originated in the United States in the 1920s or 1930s, though this is far from certain. What we do know is that the phrase became popularized in the mainstream during the 1950s thanks to its use in various works of pop culture, including television shows and movies, all heavily influenced by Jazz culture.
The expression was further popularized during the 1970s and 80s among the attendants of jazz clubs. During this time, “Be There or Be Square” became synonymous with the idea of being cool or hip. If you were at a jazz club, then you had to be there to be considered cool. Otherwise, you would just be square.
Its prevalence was also boosted by the 1980 cult classic movie, The Blues Brothers, which also featured the phrase.
The phrase was first defined on Urban Dictionary in 2006, with several entries following in the subsequent years.
Since then, the expression has become even more popular, eventually becoming an internet meme. In recent years, “Be There or Be Square” memes have been circulating through social media websites like 9GAG, iFunny as well as Reddit. These memes often feature pictures of people with rectangular faces or animals with rectangular furs, paired with the phrase as a caption.
Overall, the expression “Be There or Be Square” has come to mean that there is no in between when it comes to something. You either do something or you don’t do it at all.