Office Cliché Etymology: "Let's Table This"


A mix of clichéd metaphors and hyperbolic buzzwords such as “mission critical” and “scalability,” the ubiquitousness of office clichés will make you feel like you’re taking crazy pills. Because if you work in an office long enough you know this seemingly innocuous jargon is actually loaded in hilarious subtext. This week in Office Cliché Etymology we take a look at “Let’s table this.”

The Cliché: “Let’s table this.”

What it means: “Let’s deal with this later.”

What it really means: “Let’s put this off until everyone forgets about it.” Used to head off any discussion of a colossal screw-up by middle management/leadership along with the ensuing plans to correct that almost certainly will reflect poorly on anyone involved. Tabling something automatically assigns a timeframe of “1 month-to-never-ever-ever” for the reintroduction of said discussion, depending on both the pay-grade of the cliché user, as well as the seriousness of the original malfeasance.

Used in a sentence: “No, I shouldn’t have used the corporate credit card to buy tickets to the Taylor Swift concert for my two daughters, but let’s table any discussion of bringing this to the board until after the holidays.”

Origin: This term goes all the way back to British parliamentary procedure, when a piece of legislation was placed on the speaker’s table for discussion. As such, in most of the English-speaking world, to “table” something means to immediately take up an issue. But, in America, we do things our own way. Since the mid-19th century, Congress has used the phrase “table a motion” to postpone discussion. That’s because, in the U.S., a table became synonymous with an archive or a storage area, such as a shelf or a desk drawer.

Bonus fact: In the mid-15th century, to “table” meant to “provide food.” Those were better times.