Monday, 03 November 2008

To Turn the Tables: Origin and meaning

What does it mean if you “(to) turn the tables on someone?”
A search on “turn the tables” resulted in more than six million hits. Without looking up formal definitions I read a bunch of articles related to turning the tables. All posts refer to changing or turning a situation around in such a manner that your current undesirable position is changed to a more desirable or advantageous position. Three broad areas of application can be found: -

Firstly, to turn a current situation around to the disadvantage someone else. To cause harm, revenge, payback, reprisal and vindictiveness are words that come to mind when reading this type of post. This appears to be the most popular application.

Secondly, where you can reverse a current situation, to gain an advantage by improving your own situation. A positive action. Sales are bad so you appoint better salesmen and increase advertising, resulting in better profitability. The tables were turned in that a negative situation was turned around into a positive situation.

Thirdly, where one looks at situation with a different perspective. In other words one would turn the tables around and view the situation as a competitor, client or another 3rd party to gain a better insight. Not often used, but one I like.

Origin of tables from Latin meaning board, with specific reference to board games. Board games have been around since 3000BC, and the “table” refers to those games like backgammon that have 4 tables on the board. To turn the tables would mean to turn the game around so that your side would be changed for that of your opponent.

Image from Wikipedia.


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Aben Rudy said...

Backgammon is frequently used as an example of turning the tables. In truth, one never turns the table in Backgammon.