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I haven't heard spread the table used either.
Me neither - 'lay' or 'set'; But 'spread' would work as a direct object: 'He spread all the silver on the table'; it might even be acceptable - - the other way round: 'He spread the table with all the silver'. I know a native speaker who did a Saturday job in Burger King, and at work they used the term 'Put the table' - which I'd never heard before or since. As his manager was a Latina I guessed there was some L1 interference (from poner la mesa). And possibly that influence was industry wide, regardless of his manager, if there is a strong Hispanic influence in fast-food outlets.
Last edited by BobK; 24-May-2011 at 20:35. Reason: Added last sentence
"Spread the table" seems to be an archaic expression, although dictionaries do not call it that. MW says that this meaning of "spread" is archaic: cover completely. But the meaning prepare for dining is not marked as such.
Nevertheless, COCA only has one hit for "spread the table" and COHA has 21 (all of them more than sixty years old).
Georgia Scenes, Characters, Incidents... by Augustus Baldwin Longstreet, 1835No service was required of them on the Sabbath, further than to spread the table, and to attend it
The writer in the family, Literary Cavalcade, Vol. 52, Iss. 5; pg. 22, 7 pgs, 2000My mother spread the table with a laundered white cloth and put out her silver.
Last edited by birdeen's call; 24-May-2011 at 20:56. Reason: added quotes