Without a level playing field, labor had little say or clout at the bargaining table. – Richard A. Hogarty, Leon Abbett’s New Jersey (2002)
A playing field and a bargaining table are both flat surfaces for adversarial encounters. You sit at a bargaining table to reach an agreement with an opponent (rather than settling differences by violence). On a level playing field, neither side has an unfair advantage. So the bargaining table and level playing field represent ideals of society – even if, for the sake of clean prose style, one should not ask readers to imagine them both in the same sentence.
The key difference between a bargaining table and a level playing field is that people in business actually sit at tables to bargain. Seldom do they take to a playing field for the sake of quarterly profits. Both are figures of speech: the playing field is a metaphor, and the bargaining table is metonymy.
Metonymy = meta + nym (changed + name)
- The WHITE HOUSE said it would hold talks with MOSCOW.
- The PEN is mightier than the SWORD.
- Give them a big HAND, and lend me your EARS.
Metonymy is a nickname or shorthand form of reference, typically using an easy-to-visualize detail as an icon for something that is abstract or complex. In the examples, a building stands for a president’s administration and a city name stands for the Russian government; a writing tool stands for the expression of ideas in general, and a weapon stands for war; body parts stand for applause and attention. The figures in metonymy are always logically related to the subject they represent (bargaining table is literally where negotiations take place).
A metonym is an alternative name; a metaphor is a comparison.