Wall Street Journal
U.K. politicians table a measure to advance it, but U.S. legislators do the same to lay it aside. Why does a simple word have two opposite meanings?
For Americans trying to follow the latest twists and turns of the U.K.’s plans to leave the European Union, the jargon can get confusing. There is talk of “hard Brexit,” “soft Brexit” and “no-deal Brexit,” the last of which raises fears of sending the country over a “cliff edge.” A “backstop plan” is supposed to prevent a “hard border” between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland, depending on negotiations over a “customs union.”
But a seemingly simple word from British political parlance may be the most mystifying to observers across the Atlantic: “table.”
Consider the news from last week that the British Labour Party leader Jeremy Corbyn has “tabled a motion of no confidence” in Prime Minister Theresa May, after Mrs. May announced that she was delaying the vote in Parliament to approve her Brexit deal. “Tabling” a motion in British usage means that it has been presented for formal deliberation. But for Americans, it can mean the exact opposite: postponing the consideration of a measure, perhaps indefinitely. How did British and American English end up with such different meanings of the same basic term?