above board: meaning and explanation

If something is above board then it is honest, fair, and not attempting to hide anything or cheat anyone. e.g. Most banks operate above board, but it is still important to be careful when taking out a loan.

If you say that everything is above board then you are saying that everything is done in an honest, open way, and nothing is hidden.

Imagine you are checking whether a service, business or website is honest before making a large purchase – if you are satisfied, you could use this idiom. e.g. We’ve had a close look and as far as we can see everything seems to be above board.

A useful way to get a clearer understanding of idioms, and also to make it easier to memorise them, is to research their origins. These are often quite interesting and memorable, and can help to make the meaning of the idiom more concrete and logical. The origin of above board is poker and other card games. If you are playing above board, then you are holding your cards above the table – you are not hiding them under the table. This means that no one will suspect you of cheating or playing dishonestly.

Have a go at these micro-dictation exercises to hear this expression being used in context – how much can you understand?

Listening exercises

Micro-listening #1

Accent: England (RP)

If you at our you’ll is .

About the sentence

…If you take a look at our accounts…

to take a look at something is an alternative (and slightly more informal) synonym for to look at something or to have a look at something. It is often used when inviting someone to look at or inspect something. e.g. Can you take a look at my phone and see if you can fix it?

Micro-listening #2

Accent: Wales

, .
everything is , then you’ve nothing .

About the sentence

…as long as…

As long as is a stronger alternative to if – you can use this phrase to emphasis the importance of the condition, e.g. I’ll lend you the money as long as you pay me back by the end of the month.

Micro-listening #3

Accent: North America

, .
It will weeks for your application, make sure everything .

About the sentence

…It will take a few weeks…

Notice the very useful structure to take time (for somebody) to do something. e.g. It took him a few minutes to realise he had made a huge mistake.

…to make sure…

Use the structure make sure + sentence to talk about confirming something or becoming certain about something. e.g. Make sure you’ve got your key before you leave the house. You don’t want to get locked out.

Extra practice

Here are some questions/links to help you learn the new vocabulary:

  • In your country, is business generally done ‘above board’ or do people try to conceal things?
  • Can you remember a time when you thought everything seemed to be above board, and it turned out that you were wrong?

Photo by Michał Parzuchowski on Unsplash