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

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    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
  • You might know the meaning, but the title in your question is wrong, and has been so for over six years. It should read turn the tables A brief definition would be nice too, to clarify its meaning. – Mari-Lou A Mar 11 '17 at 6:47
  • (Errata corrige) The user is active on Stack Overflow, so I trust he will correct the correct the trivial mistake. Before anyone says anything, I prefer to edit questions or answers that are in dire need of help or improvement. – Mari-Lou A Mar 11 '17 at 7:14
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    @thesunneversets you seem to still have the best answer.... in the comments... – Skooba Mar 11 '17 at 12:50
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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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    Aha, this explains why it's always "tables" in the plural (the question heading has it wrong). – Rupe May 29 '14 at 10:53
  • But why is the backgammon table turning? – Skooba Mar 11 '17 at 12:49
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In a comment, thesunneversets wrote:

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."

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I have also come across the usage to refer to the custom, at formal dinner parties of the Regency period for instance, that the entire table would 'turn' to their dinner partner on the opposite side as the courses changed. It was a formal way of ensuring broad coversation.

  • Sorry but this social custom has nothing to do with the question. – user24964 May 29 '14 at 8:22
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Jesus turned the tables over (John chapter 2), and in doing so, was probably making a rather strong point that Jewish elements such as the temple were being given new meaning and/or being replaced in His system. It would seem that this incident probably led, at least in part, to the English phrase.

  • This is the first thing that came to my mind, with this phrase. Jesus did turn the tables of the money changers over, in the marketplace, and in so doing, reminded us all that we cannot love and serve both God and money.. i.e. the things of this world. This could be the origin of this phrase.. certainly worth looking at. – BetsyFrear Mar 11 '17 at 5:13

protected by tchrist Mar 11 '17 at 18:28

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