A busy restaurant likes nothing more than to ‘turn the tables’. Of course, unlike the phrase ‘the tables have turned’, restaurants don’t wish to suddenly reverse the fortunes of their guests…they just want them to eat, leave and make way for more customers. So where did the phrase ‘the tables have turned’ in the melodramatic, chortling sense come from?
The most likely theory says that it comes from the ancient board game once known as tables, the predecessor of modern backgammon. In tables it is possible to have a sudden reversal of fortune, one moment be losing and the next winning. This is likely where the expression ‘the tables have turned’ comes from.