Level playing field


What's the meaning of the phrase 'Level playing field'?

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

What's the origin of the phrase 'Level playing field'?

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.

Trend of level playing field in printed material over time

Gary Martin is a writer and researcher on the origins of phrases and the creator of the Phrase Finder website. Over the past 26 years more than 700 million of his pages have been downloaded by readers. He is one of the most popular and trusted sources of information on phrases and idioms.

Gary Martin

Writer and researcher on the origins of phrases and the creator of the Phrase Finder website. Over the past 26 years more than 700 million of his pages have been downloaded by readers. He is one of the most popular and trusted sources of information on phrases and idioms.