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What is the origin of the idiom on the same page?

This is the definition of the idiom from Wiktionary:

In broad agreement or sharing a common general understanding or knowledge (common in office environments). I want to make sure we're all on the same page with the game plan for the Acme account.

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    I imagine it's exactly what it sounds like: a group of people are simultaneously reading copies of a document (perhaps a report or a musical score). If they want to talk about the document in any sensible fashion, they need to make sure that "the graph at the top of the page" isn't on page 32 for one person and on page 35 for another person.
    – Marthaª
    Jun 25, 2013 at 15:52
  • The metaphorical aspect of the saying is also important! Oftentimes when a person uses the expression, she or he is saying, "I'm not sure we all share the same assumptions here, so let's address THAT first, and then we can continue." It's always good to establish common ground (i.e., the "same page") before launching into perhaps unfamiliar territory, especially into territory where some folks might not be inclined to go, at least initially. Jun 25, 2013 at 16:45

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This is the first citation of the phrase in the OED:

[1965 H. Rhodes Chosen Few 179 ‘He..finally told me what page he was on’. ‘Is it th' same page you thought it was?’]

The next citation, which uses the phrase in its current form, is from 1979:

1979 N.Y. Times 18 Jan. b7/2 One of the things that happens when you makes as many rule changes as the National Football League has had a propensity to do in the last couple of years is that it takes a long time for everybody to get on the same page as far as the rules are concerned.

It was doubtless used in speech even before, and the paucity of written references is, I think, due both to the fact that it originated so recently and to the fact that it might have been considered slang at the time. (The OED categorizes it as colloquial, being used chiefly in the United States, and slang.) The first sentence, I think, makes somewhat clear the motivation for using such an expression.

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Intuitively, I think it comes from 'common knowledge' of old school traditions. In a 'Traditional' classroom setting, ALL children were instructed by the teacher to open their text books to the SAME page. That way, the teacher insured that the students would ALL follow the lesson together and would not get distracted. Teaching methods were NOT interactive as they are today; in other words, they did not have project-based learning and were not given choices. You may watch the television show "Little House on the Prairie" to get an idea of a more traditional learning method.

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  • Yep, I'm fairly sure this is the origin of the idiom.
    – Hot Licks
    Dec 17, 2019 at 22:58
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I suspect that the term "on the same page" is more Jewish in origin and refers to discussion of the Torah in their religious schools. This is to ensure that their commentaries are referring to the same topis as all Torahs have the same page in any version.

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    Dec 6, 2021 at 20:05
  • Do Torahs have pages? They are traditionally scrolls not codexes. Are the columns of text commonly known as pages?
    – Stuart F
    Dec 6, 2021 at 23:28
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The expression seems to come from the late 19th/early 19th century when it was "to sing from the same hymnal"

The idea was that if two people had different hymnals then they would be of different religions/sects and thus disagree on fundamental [religious] issues.

I found this snippet (in a business context) from 1922 in Google Books:

Reclamation Era - Page 317

Students of Main Street might surmise that Davis and I did not sing from the same hymnal. Such a surmise would be correct.

Hymnal was later replaced by hymnbook, then hymnsheet, and then simply "sheet"- and eventually page and, with the idea of singing diminishing, "being on the same page."

Thus to be on the same sheet as someone was to share their ideas, ideals, and beliefs.

I did find earlier references to singing from the same hymnal but these tend to be literal and imply, rather than state, a unity within one sect/religion.

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  • Interesting, but I don't think you've quite made the connection. It could be that the two phrases arose independently. Being "on the same page" could have originated in theater, for example, where it would be important in script reading to be on the same page.
    – Robusto
    Dec 7, 2021 at 1:27
  • Interesting, but I don't think that it could. In the theatre, one would be correct and the other wrong - there is no issue. Here "on the same page" indicates that ideas, ideals, and beliefs which are debatable should be the same.
    – Greybeard
    Dec 7, 2021 at 9:39
  • But that's how metaphors are born. People see the resemblance between things and appropriate one usage for another.
    – Robusto
    Dec 7, 2021 at 13:45

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