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I couldn't find where the phrase "bring to the table" originated. Please share your thoughts and any information you have.

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    Please show your research and the context in which you found the phrase used.
    – fev
    Jun 19, 2023 at 11:48
  • Even a 'no help at [reasonable resource]' is valid. One such resource being Phrase Finder. LearningEnglish includes the expression, but not its etymology. Jun 19, 2023 at 11:55
  • @EdwinAshworth - sure, but googling the question's title brings up several relevant, easily understandable results. (In other words, do you not think that this is general reference?) Jun 19, 2023 at 20:09
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    @Heartspring (1) My usual practice is to look for such etymologies in the Phrase Finder and Etymon. I couldn't find answers there. (2) As OP is <<1k, I didn't CV. Jun 20, 2023 at 11:36

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There is an earlier occurrence of this expression that dates from at least 1898, well before the period of the end of the 20th century, when it begins to be acknowledged as having the meaning "to contribute" (see this answer). Its meaning is more literal, apparently to be construed as "to carry on with sth while being sitted around a table"; it is not clear whether it is still used in contemporary English as there is but one instance in the literature collected by Google Books.

(Good Housekeeping - Volume 26 - 1898) …reads this paper, or if the mother details for the benefit of the rest of the family all the little vexations to which she has been subjected during the day, then the children will bring to the table their petty quarrels with each other or with their school fellows.

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  • Good research LPH. Thank you! Jun 19, 2023 at 14:21
  • Yes that would be a literal table. But is the OP looking for the etymology of the idiom that means contribute? Jun 19, 2023 at 15:39
  • "Tinfoil Hat But it's not a fully literal usage. Jun 19, 2023 at 15:43
  • @EdwinAshworth — True, the petty quarrels aren’t literal, but the book and the table are. And neither suggests a “useful contribution.” Jun 19, 2023 at 17:13
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    @TinfoilHat In my opinion, the petty quarrels are literal; what is not literal is to "bring them to the table": they are taken up anew in a gathering of people that is metonymically represented by the table around which it is held. This image is more literal because, instead of a representing a discussion (abstract concept) the table represents a gathering of person (concrete).
    – LPH
    Jun 19, 2023 at 17:35
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The origin is not clear, but the following websites suggests it probably refers to gambling:

This refers to the initial amount of money that a gambler brings to a card game and which other players have a chance to win. Bringing "a lot" to the table means that your contribution has the potential to enrich everybody else. Similarly, to "leave something on the table" refers to departing a card game when there's still the potential to win additional money.

[Geoffrey James; Inc {#7}]

As a set phrase, bring to the table appears to have become popular from the ‘80s.

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  • Great research Gio. Thank you very much. Jun 19, 2023 at 15:05
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If you mean bring to the table in sense of contribute, see the OED:

table, n.
PHRASES
P9. to bring (something) to the table: to contribute (something worthwhile, useful, or valuable) to a discussion, project, etc.

Here are the earliest and latest examples provided:

1914    Times 20 Mar. 15/5    Reece can do exquisitely delicate things and bring to the table a virtuosity which words cannot overpraise.
2002    N.Y. Times Bk. Rev. 10 Feb. 7/1    Sheppard brought to the table not only an agile intelligence..but athleticism and physical courage.

Source: Oxford English Dictionary (login required)

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The earliest match for "bring to the table" in a literal sense that an Elephind search of multiple newspaper databases finds is from "Recipes, &c.: Excellent Recipes," in the Sunbury [Pennsylvania] American (January 2, 1864):

DRAWING TEA. The following method is highly recommended, as bringing out, at the proper time, the full flavor of the tea—"pour tepid or cold water enough on the tea to cover it ; place it on the stove hearth, top of a teakettle or any place where it will be warm, but not enough so as to cause the aroma to escape in steam. Let it remain about half an hour, then pour on boiling water and bring to the table.

There are also several early instances (often framed negatively) of the longer expression "fit to bring to the table." For example, from "A Minister's Rebuke," in the [Indianapolis, Indiana] Daily State Sentinel (October 7, 1869):

"There, gentlemen, is a bit of pie. I wish I could have made you something better; but it was not to be. Nothing went right with them. They [two beautiful apple pies] are not really fit to eat—not fit to bring to the table; but I have no other. I am sorry—very sorry."

An early instance involving a person that someone has elected to "bring to the table" appears in Mrs. A.D.T. Whitney, "Belinda Bree: The Boston Seamstress, and Her New Hampshire Neice," in the [Portland, Oregon] New Northwest (September 12, 1873):

Poor "Aunt Blin" overheard one man ask his wife in her dress-room before dinner: "Why if she must have a stitching woman in the house, she couldn't find a more comfortable one to look at; somebody a little bright and cheerful to bring to the table, instead of that old callariper?"

The first instance of "bring to the table" involving something other than a physical object and conveying the figurative sense "contribute to the gathering" occurs in an untitled item in the Springfield [Ohio] Globe-Republic (April 17, 1885), reprinted from the Christian Union:

It is not enough that at the table nobody should be glum and silent, and nobody disobliging and cross. Neither is it quite enough that everybody has come to their place with suitable freshening of face, hands, hair and dress. The growing lad, with his hungry appetite, sometimes claims that mother is over fastidious when she insists on a nice toilet for the dinner table and is resolute that traces of out-door work shall be removed, but he will thank her for her care in years to come. So, too, will his wife; for mother should never forget that it is she who must train her boy to be a good husband, considerate and thoughtful in little things. We ought to bring to the table some pleasant topic about which to talk. Not occurrences in the neighborhood merely, although a kindly interest in our neighbors and sincere pleasure in their good fortune, is not gossip, nor reprehensible.

And soon after, in Dio Lewis, "Good Humor and Good Digestion" in the [Monmouth, Illinois] Evening Gazette (February 19, 1886):

The influence of a quiet, social temper upon the stomach is one of the curious facts about digestion. Blessed are the story-tellers, for they help us digest our dinners. A good story-teller, if his stories are clean, is a godsend. His best services are rendered at the table. Those of as who can not tell a good story can bring to the table the funny papers.

And finally, an instance in which the table is not a dinner table but (in this case) a city council table, from "Municipal Elections" in the Portland [Victoria] Guardian (August 6, 1890):

With regard to the re-elected councillors, the policy they have adopted at the table speaks for them as live members and gentlemen anxious to advance the welfare of the Borough, even though at times their ideas as to how this may best be accomplished diverge a little. Mr. Brown, however, is new to Portland municipal affairs, though he has had experience as a councillor in another town. He will bring to the table, we believe, solid business ideas, and a progressive spirit tempered by inherent Scotch caution. We do not anticipate that the ratepayers will have reason to regret allowing Cr. Brown to be returned unopposed to the Borough Council of Portland.

To my ear, this sounds very modern and clearly prefigures instances in which writers or speakers talk in a purely metaphorical sense about someone "bringing [certain talents or perspective] to the table" when there is no table at all, but rather a football field, a Zoom call, or a court of law.

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