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The meaning and origin of the expression: Level playing field

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Level playing field

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Fair competition, where no advantage is shown to either side.


This phrase clearly alludes to the requirement for fairness in games which are played from end to end and where a slope would give one team and advantage, e.g. football. The figurative use of the phrase isn't especially old and the first record I can find of it is from the Tyrone Daily Herald, January 1977:

"Our philosophy is that we have no problem competing with the mutual savings banks if they start from the level playing field," Bolger said. [John Bolger, lobbyist for the US Bankers Association]

This harks back to another American phrase, from about a century before - on the level. This is first recorded in George Burnham's Memoirs of the United States Secret Service, 1872:

"On the level, meeting a man with honorable intentions."

See other phrases that were coined in the USA.