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    One Word, Many Meanings: table

    Monday, April 16, 2012

    Even simple English words can have several different meanings, table being a perfect example.

    As a noun…
    a table might be

    • a piece of furniture with a flat surface supported by several legs or a pedestal, usually used for serving food or playing a game;
    • any flat or level geographical feature, including a plateau or the level below which water wholly saturates the ground (a water table);
    • an abbreviated list or an arrangement of related words or numbers in columns and rows, such as a table of contents in a book, a mathematical table displaying related data, or the periodic table of elements.

    As a verb…
    table is usually transitive, needing an object, and it has three separate meanings:

    • to postpone discussion or consideration, as in The committee will table that proposal until the research results are finalized.
    • to lay something on a table, as in Table your books so the staff can mop the floor.
    • to enter in a list or table, as in After Dr. Ian tables his data, we can compare our findings.

    As an adjective…
    table describes whatever may be placed on a table:

    • a table setting, for example, refers to a set of eating utensils for one person, and
    • a table cover refers to a cloth placed over a table.

    In idioms…
    table appears in the following phrases:

    • To turn the tables means "to cause a reversal that gains the advantage."
    • Under the table has two meanings, the first being a secret transaction, as in They made the offer under the table, and the second describing inebriation, as in He drank his competitor under the table.
    • On the table refers to an offer submitted for approval, as in Our proposal was on the table, awaiting the board's decision.

    The simple word table, for its versatility, enriches the English language. What other such words can you think of?

    —Joyce Becker Lee

    Photo by dalbera