English Language & Usage Stack Exchange is a question and answer site for linguists, etymologists, and serious English language enthusiasts. Join them; it only takes a minute:

Sign up
Here's how it works:
  1. Anybody can ask a question
  2. Anybody can answer
  3. The best answers are voted up and rise to the top

I am curious to know why a numerical chart can be called a table. What is the relation to the table at which people eat?

share|improve this question
up vote 8 down vote accepted

That kind of table comes from the Latin tabula meaning "a board or plank" which was used for writing down columns of numbers. It was also where one ate one's dinner (OE called it bord and appropriated the Latin table for that purpose, although the Romans used the term mensa for the food table). Handy, eh? You can read about it on Etymonline. http://www.etymonline.com/index.php?search=table&searchmode=none

share|improve this answer
And bord is from Dutch. How the languages became confused to form English! – Paul Lammertsma Feb 2 '11 at 9:37
Are you sure "bord" is from Dutch? I think it is part of the common inheritance of Dutch and English. – Colin Fine Feb 2 '11 at 12:04
@Paul Lammertsma: I believe @Colin Fine's comment is addressed to you. – Robusto Feb 2 '11 at 12:55
@Paul - I don't think it's that simple... you also have it in Swedish , Norwegian and Danish (e.g. Smörgåsbord, koldtbord) – UpTheCreek Feb 2 '11 at 13:16

As reported from the NOAD, the origin of the word table is from Old English tabule (flat slab, inscribed tablet), which derives from the Latin tabula (plank, tablet, list); it has been reinforced in Middle English from the Old French table.

Table has then two different meanings that has been taken from the Latin word.

share|improve this answer
It's also behind "tablet", originally in the biblical sense (the stone tablets on which the Ten Commandments were inscribed). – Colin Fine Feb 2 '11 at 12:06

Your Answer


By posting your answer, you agree to the privacy policy and terms of service.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.