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I know the meaning of the phrase, but where exactly does it come from?

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+1 Fun question, it's an evocative (and seemingly) incomprehensible phrase! –  thesunneversets Nov 19 '10 at 17:15
I found this online, which clarifies even further: Games like backgammon are known as 'tables' games. The phrase 'turn the tables' derives from these games and from the practise of reversing the board so that players play from their opponent's previous position. The first known example of the figurative use of the phrase in print is in Robert Sanderson's XII sermons, 1634: "Whosoever thou art that dost another wrong, do but turn the tables: imagine thy neighbour were now playing thy game, and thou his." –  thesunneversets Nov 19 '10 at 17:16
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1 Answer

up vote 7 down vote accepted

Etymonline to the rescue:

Figurative phrase turn the tables (1630s) is from backgammon (in O.E. and M.E. the game was called tables).

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Cool, thanks a bunch, that makes a lot of sense. –  Ted Ballou Nov 19 '10 at 14:49
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