In the famous first section of The Divine Comedy, Dante describes an imaginary tour of hell, describing the various categories of sinners and the way hell has been organised into nine circles to deliver appropriate punishment to each type of sinner in various sections.

Dante describes the ninth circle as the one reserved for the very worst sinners in this world.

Taking inspiration from this famous book, people today talk about the ‘ninth circle of hell’ idiomatically, saying, for example: “I sometimes think I would be better off in the ninth circle of hell rather than in this dead end job.’

Not all idioms related to the word ‘circle’ are so ominous.

Let us consider a few more ‘circle’ related idioms today.

Circle back

There are a number of expressions that I dislike, even though they are in common use. One of them is ‘circle back.’ Very simply, ‘circle back’ refers to going back or turning back.

For example: ‘We had walked almost all the way to the mall, but we decided to circle back, pick up some cash from the ATM, and then go to the mall.’

This literal use of the expression is fine, but the figurative use is a little problematic.

In its figurative sense, the expression is mostly used in the corporate world to suggest that one should discuss a certain issue later.

For example:

‘We debated the issue of implementing a customer satisfaction survey initiative in the meeting but no conclusion could be reached, so we decided to circle back to it next week.’

Similarly: ‘I know employees are concerned about the current office conditions, but the management is working on a solution already, so let’s circle back to this issue in a few months.’

As corporate buzzword, ‘circle back’ is almost always a way to get out of reaching a conclusion or making a commitment, and essentially avoiding the issues at hand, which is why people usually dislike the use of this idiom.

Move in the

same circles

As a noun, one of the numerous meanings of the word ‘circle’ refers to a group of people who share an interest or an activity, or otherwise have something in common--such as upbringing--that makes them part of a category.

For example, you could talk about your friend circle or your professional circle.

In this context, circle is a powerful metaphor that helps us identify people who belong in specific categories.

Here is an example:

‘Although they lived in the same town and moved in the same social circles, they somehow went an entire year without meeting each other.’

Or: ‘I know I live in London, but I haven’t met the queen; we don’t move in the same circles!’

Nilesh Jahagirdar

nilesh@skillspark.com