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.

  • 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 '13 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. – rhetorician Jun 25 '13 at 16:45

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.


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.

  • Yep, I'm fairly sure this is the origin of the idiom. – Hot Licks Dec 17 '19 at 22:58

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service, privacy policy and cookie policy

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