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This came up in an email discussion - we are arguing about the merits and demerits of a certain approach, and I mentioned what I thought was a drawback to a scheme. To that, my colleague replied : "Okay, we can table this, but I just want to clarify something..." after which he went on to elucidate his views.... Does that mean that the discussion is closed on this ? If so, did he mean to say "I agree to what you say, but I wasn't totally wrong either" or something similar, or is it the reverse ?

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Do you want the "correct" answer, or an interpretation of what the person meant? "Tabling" is improper to do via email, so this usage was very informal. – antony.trupe Aug 24 at 22:23

8 Answers 8

up vote 11 down vote accepted

In American English, to table something means to postpone discussion on something. It might mean to postpone it indefinitely, but usually it just means that the discussion should be resumed at a later date. (As others have pointed out, in British English it means the exact opposite. Two countries divided by a common language, as someone said.)


Etymonline notes:

table (v.) in parliamentary sense, 1718, originally "to lay on the (speaker's) table for discussion," from table (n.). But in U.S. political jargon it has the sense of "to postpone indefinitely" (1866). Related: Tabled; tabling.

That may be true for political jargon, but in every business meeting I've ever been involved with, to "table" something usually means the issue wasn't going to go away but that we were agreeing not to talk about it during the current meeting.

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It's important to note that in the UK (and I suspect across the Commonwealth), to table something actually means the opposite of what it does in the US (i.e. in the UK, it means "to present for discussion") – Dusty Mar 14 '11 at 14:32
To add to Dusty's interpretation: whilst to table means to present, the verb to shelve means to postpone (or possibly cancel) the project/dicussion. – Andy F Mar 14 '11 at 14:52
@Dusty is right. In Commonwealth English, to table means to present/submit etc – knight17 Sep 5 '11 at 15:56
To table something means to postpone discussion on something. It might mean to postpone it indefinitely, - is that in US or UK? – アレックス Mar 31 at 5:47
Wikipedia has a good article on exactly this difference between US and British parliamentary meanings, – Air Jun 17 at 17:54

It depends who is saying it. Americans mean "let's postpone discussing it". Other English speaking people mean "let's begin discussing it".

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You really need some sort of authority for a sweeping statement like that: but +1 for concision. – TimLymington Dec 1 '11 at 13:54
RONR uses several pages to explain that tabling to postpone is incorrect and improper, and the intended motion is to postpone. – antony.trupe Aug 24 at 22:19

Colloquially, one can table a suggestion for a group to decide on.

(From the UK).

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In giving an answer relating to this word, you must say which side of the Atlantic you are, for the reason that Dusty mentioned. – Colin Fine Mar 14 '11 at 17:53
@Colin Fine Let's hope not much business is conducted on transatlantic journeys. – Edwin Ashworth Mar 31 at 9:55

According to (Roberts Rules of Order):

The purpose of the motion to Lay on the Table is to enable an assembly, by majority vote and without debate, to lay a pending question aside temporarily when something else of immediate urgency has arisen or when something else needs to be addressed before consideration of the pending question is resumed. In ordinary societies it is rarely needed, and hence seldom in order. [RONR (11th ed.), pp. 209-18; see also p. 127 of RONRIB.]

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Robert's Rules of Order is the key here. – Wayfaring Stranger Mar 31 at 12:10
This is the right answer. – antony.trupe Aug 24 at 22:11

He probably was using the word casually, meaning to communicate that he doesn't think reaching a consensus is necessary or useful, and he doesn't want to continue the discussion either right now or ever.

RONR chapter 17(page 209, line 23) begins immediately with the description

To interrupt the pending business so as to permit doing something else immediately.

It is then followed by multiple pages explaining how to handle the incorrect usage of the motion, explaining how most people mean to postpone the subject, and to table is not what they meant.

It is notable that tabling deprives the minority of rights since the motion to table is not debatable; to use it to kill discussion is highly improper. The correct action to achieve that goal is to postpone(to a date or indefinitely), which does allow debate.

The correct use of tabling is to get to a matter that is more urgent with the intent to come back to the issue as quickly as possible.

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US meaning - agreement to postpone any or any further discussion of that issue; UK meaning - to put it to vote, or briefly express your opinion after which a decision will be made.

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Always cite your sources. The meanings you mention must have obviously been taken from a dictionary or similar source. – Kris Nov 7 '13 at 4:50

No, to table something (in the U.S.) means to hold it off until a later date. Example:

Let's table this until Friday's meeting.

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A link to a dictionary reference might be helpful here. – Jimi Oke Jan 22 at 22:29

To "Table Something" means to put it out in front of everyone and discuss it. Imagine Thanksgiving Dinner. When the bird is on put on the table, everyone comes and sits to eat the bird. They don't shelve it, which would mean to put it away and pull it back out later. In a meeting, to Table it means to discuss it and make a decision on it for all to have their input on it.

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