Pulling out the paper on the invasion of mainland Europe, I place it on the table before me.
This is what they came for.
“The British Chief of Staff’s Committee would like to table the paper on the topic of invading mainland Europe.” I announce to the Combined Chief’s of Staff Committee.
Half the room, the Americans, erupt in surprise and disappointment.
“What do you mean table it?” General Marshall, the Chief of Staff of the United States Army replies, representing the American side.
I thought they’d want us to talk about this. It is their bailiwick, after all.
“Yes, we’d like to table the motion of invading mainland Europe in 1942.” I repeat.
They may have simply misunderstood me the first time.
“We can’t table that” General Marshall retorts, almost instantly. “That is a primary topic we came to discuss.”
Of course it’s what we all came to discuss. That’s why we brought it up. Why are they fighting it.
The entire American delegation huddles together. Chief of Staff of the Army, Chief of Naval Operations, Chief of the Army Air Corps. (Why is their Air service part of their Army? They’ll learn.) and their Secretaries of their Army and Navy. So much brass and pinstripes, one would almost feel sorry for the marching band from which they must have pilfered it.
“The invasion of mainland Europe is of prime importance to our side. We must insist it not be tabled at this time. Otherwise, we have nothing further to discuss today.” General Marshall announces in a commanding, yet gentle, voice.
If it’s so important to you, and us, then why must we not table it at this time?
“Yes, the invasion of mainland Europe is of prime importance to our side as well, which is the very reason we wish to table it at this time. There are other topics which can wait until we address this one.” I reply, still not understanding the American’s insistence to prevent it from being discussed.
“Perhaps, I may offer a point of clarification.” Air Marshall Harris chimes in.
“It appears to me both sides which to discuss the invasion of mainland Europe. Is this correct?” the Air Marshall asks the room.
“Yes, that is correct.” General Marshall replies.
“Yes, right then.” Harris quickly retorts.
You’ve got it Harris, that’s it!
“Then perhaps we are on the same page, and simply the definition of ‘Table It’ is what’s ruffling the matter.” Harris offers.
Slowly the American delegation retakes their seats.
“So, we’ll discuss the invasion of mainland Europe next then?” General Marshall asks.
“If by next you mean now, then yes.” I reply. “For us, next means after what we’re doing right now.”
General Marshall looks at me.
General Arnold of the United States Army Air Corps slams a cigar on the table.
Major General Thomas Holcomb, Commandant of the United States Marine Corps, slams his fist in a laugh.
“Gentlemen, may we proceed with discussing the invasion of Mainland Europe?” I ask.
In unison, the room erupts. “YES!”
“Let’s Proceed.” I declare.
Turns out the same words don’t always mean the same thing. During the Second World War the British and Americans came together at multiple conferences to plan the conduct of the war. One of the first, ARCADIA, took place from late 1941 through early 1942 and formed the foundation of the British American alliance, which persists to this day. Yet, at that conference not everything went as smooth as it could. Here is a quote from Winston Churchill discussing the event:
The enjoyment of a common language was of course a supreme advantage in all British and American discussions. The delays and often partial misunderstandings which occur when interpreters are used were avoided. There were however differences of expression, which in the early days led to an amusing incident. The British Staff prepared a paper which they wished to raise as a matter of urgency, and informed their American colleagues that they wished to "table it." To the American Staff "tabling" a paper meant putting it away in a drawer and forgetting it. A long and even acrimonious argument ensued before both parties realized that they were agreed on the merits and wanted the same thing.
This story is from my upcoming book Threads of The War, Volume IV. If you like what you've read here, please consider Pre-Ordering the book here.
Table (parliamentary procedure)
From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
Look up table in Wiktionary, the free dictionary.
In parliamentary procedure, the use of table, as a verb, has two different and contradictory meanings:
● In the United States, to "table" usually means to postpone or suspend consideration of a pending motion.
Difference between American and British usage
Both the American and the British dialects have the sense of "to table" as "to lay (the topic) on the table", or "to cause (the topic) to lie on the table". A related phrase "put on the table" has the same meaning for both dialects, which is to make the issue available for debate. The difference is when "table" is used as a verb.
The British meaning of to "table" is to begin consideration of a proposal. This comes from the use of the term to describe physically laying legislation on the table in the British Parliament; once an item on the order paper has been laid on the table, it becomes the current subject for debate.
The American meaning of to "table" is to postpone or suspend consideration of a motion. In this meaning, to begin consideration of the topic again, it would have to be "taken from the table". The use of terms such as "tabling a motion" in connection with setting aside or killing a main motion can cause confusion with the usage of this term in the United Kingdom and Commonwealth countries, where it has an opposite meaning—that is, to propose a motion for consideration. To make the intent clear internationally, Congressional Quarterly and its associated CQ publications, in reporting congressional votes, usually follow the word "table" (as used in Congress) with the word "kill" in parentheses.
Use in the United States
In the United States, use of "table" as a verb usually refers to the motion to "lay on the table". Different parliamentary authorities describe such a motion in different ways. It also depends on whether the assembly is anorganization or a legislative body.
Robert's Rules of Order Newly Revised (RONR)
Lay on the table (RONR)Class
Negative vote only
Under Robert's Rules of Order Newly Revised (the book used by most organizations), the subsidiary motion to lay on the table is properly used only when it is necessary to suspend consideration of a main motion in order to deal with another matter that has come up unexpectedly and which must be dealt with before the pending motion can be properly addressed. It has, however, become common to misuse this motion to end consideration of the pending main motion without debate, or to mistakenly assume that its adoption prevents further consideration of the main motion at all, or until a specified time. Using "table" as a verb usually indicates misuse of this motion. The book states, "It is preferable to avoid moving 'to table' a motion, or 'that the motion be tabled.'"
Take from the table (RONR)Class
A main motion that has been laid on the table may be taken up again by adoption of a motion to take from the table. A motion can be taken from the table at the same session (or meeting) or at the next session (or meeting) if that session occurs within a quarterly time interval. Otherwise, the motion dies.
The use of the motion to lay on the table to kill a motion is improper; instead, a motion to postpone indefinitely should be used. Similarly, it is improper to use the motion to lay on the table to postpone something; a motion to postpone to a certain time should be used in this case. If debate is not desired, a motion to close debate (the previous question) should be used. One of the disadvantages of trying to kill a measure by laying it on the table is that, if some opponents of the measure subsequently leave the meeting, a temporary majority favoring the measure can then take it from the table and act on it; or they may do so at the next session if held within a quarterly time interval.
Although the motion to lay on the table is not debatable, the chair can ask the maker of the motion to state his reason in order to establish the urgency and legitimate intent of the motion or the maker can state it on his own initiative.
In both houses of the United States Congress, the motion to table is used to kill a motion without debate or a vote on the merits of the resolution. The rules do not provide for taking the motion from the table, and therefore consideration of the motion may be resumed only by a two-thirds vote to suspend the rules.
Mason's Manual of Legislative Procedure
Most state legislatures use Mason's Manual of Legislative Procedure. In this book, the motions to lay on the table and to take from the table have the same characteristics as under RONR. Mason's Manual has another motion, take from the desk, which a member uses when they desire to take up a matter that is on the desk, but on which no action has yet been taken. The differences between the two motions are that the motion to take from the table is used after an item has been placed on the desk by a previous use of a motion to lay on the table and the motion is given a preference over new main motions offered at the same time. Take from the desk is used when an item is taken up that has not yet been introduced and this motion has no preference over new main motions that may be made at the same time.
Example of Anglo‐American confusion
In the Parliament of the United Kingdom and other parliaments based on the Westminster system, to "table" a measure means to propose it for consideration, as in bringing it to the table. In his book (The Second World War, Volume III, The Grand Alliance), Winston Churchill relates the confusion that arose between American and British military leaders during the Second World War:
In the US, meetings are often held according to Robert's Rules of Order, a popular guide to 'parliamentary procedure'. (We may not have a parliament, but we have the procedures! The Congress has its own set of rules.) In the parlance of Robert's and AmE generally, if a motion has been made and is up for discussion, it is on the floor, as in the following quotation from thePrinceton Union Eagle:
After a few minutes, Weisenburger said to Girard, "There's a motion on the floor, it's been seconded. Do something."
If you want to remove the motion from the floor--that is, to postpone discussion of it until a later time, you can put it on the table, or table the motion. (You'd then say that the motion is or has been tabled.) So, a tabled motion is not on the floor--it cannot be debated.
In BrE (where parliamentary procedure--or Standing Orders--seems to differ depending on the type of bill being debated and in which House), a motion that is being discussed is on the table. So, you table a motion when you want to bring it up for debate. You can also table questions (bring them up for discussion), according to the House of Commons Standing Orders for Public Business: