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What is the meaning of the expression “We can table this”?

Here's an example snippet for some context.

Ann had an idea. We tabled her idea.

In the UK this means "We put this idea on an agenda so it could be discussed". In the US this seems to mean "We didn't have time, so we didn't put it on an agenda now. We might sometime in the future."

These are different (sometimes opposite!) meanings.

What's the etymology of these usages for each country?

  • 2
    It means a little more than what you say it does in the U.S. Here it means we put off discussion of a topic for whatever reason, but usually because we don't see that it is possible to reach an agreement now — not enough interested parties are present, perhaps, or disagreement is too strong among the parties, or even, as you say, that there isn't enough time.
    – Robusto
    Jan 6, 2013 at 21:48
  • 1
    table (v.) in parliamentary sense, 1718, originally "to lay on the (speaker's) table for discussion," from table (n.). But in U.S. political jargon it has the sense of "to postpone indefinitely" (1866). Related: Tabled; tabling. —Online Etymology Dictionary
    – MetaEd
    Jan 6, 2013 at 21:52
  • 2
    Both come from the metaphor of "putting (a document) on the table". The difference in usage comes from which table: the discussion table, or the non-discussion table :) Jan 6, 2013 at 23:06

1 Answer 1


Under definition 4 of the verb table, the OED gives two meanings. The first is ‘To present or submit formally for discussion or consideration. (Common in English-speaking regions outside the United States.)' The earliest citation supporting this use is from 1653.

The second meaning is ‘originally and chiefly U.S. To postpone consideration of, especially indefinitely; to shelve.’ The earliest citation illustrating this meaning is from 1849.


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