phrases, sayings, idioms and expressions at

To turn the tables

Posted by ESC on February 14, 2003

In Reply to: The tables have turned? posted by peeg on February 13, 2003

: what is the origin of this phrase?

TO TURN THE TABLES - "The game from which the expression arose was backgammon, not cards. (The author, in an earlier book, had given a definition based on a card game.) This is a game of considerable antiquity, thought to have been invented in the tenth century, but probably related to the game 'Ludud duodecim scriptorum, 'twelve-line game,' played in ancient Rome. In Chaucer's time and until the seventeenth century the game was invariably known as 'tables' in England, and even in modern play the board is customarily divided into two (or four) tables. The play is too involved to describe here, but there are often dramatic reversals of fortune due, not to reversing the positions of the board, but to a rule which allows a player to double the stakes under certain circumstances - literally to turn the tables." From "2107 Curious Word Origins, Sayings & Expressions from White Elephants to a Song and Dance" by Charles Earle Funk (Galahad Book, New York, 1993).