To table an issue

I have noticed that Icelandic has a phrase "allt upp á borði" which translates as everything on the table. In American English, at least to me, this phrase is a poker metaphor, in as much as we sometimes say, "lay it out on the table for me", a saying coming from the moment at the end of a poker match where everyone has to put their cards down, face up, on the table, so that everyone can see what they have and thereby determine the winner.

I suspect that the Icelandic phrase however may instead have a more medieval antecedent, in as much as some saga passages have characters laying all their weapons down on a table. Here the sense is less of one of discovery of truth or determination of winner, and more a matter of making everyone equal. Now no one has a weapon, and everyone can get down to talking without threat of violence.

The funny thing to my English ears, however, is that "to table an issue" in American English actually means the exact opposite of starting to deal with it. Instead, an issue is tabled when everyone agrees now is not the right time to deal with it or discuss it. The discussion is postponed indefinitely. The hope is generally speaking that changes in circumstances will make the matter mute, that in fact not doing anything about it might be better than doing something about it. This can be especially appropriate in complex issues where multiple players are involved.

I suppose Ingibjörg Sólrún was getting these usages confused.


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