Checkered past and chequered past

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Checkered past and chequered past are two idioms that mean the same thing, though one is an American spelling and one is a British spelling. We will look at the meaning of the phrases checkered past and chequered past, where they came from and some examples of their use in sentences.

A checkered past is one that involves periods of time that were good and periods of time that were bad. When referring to someone as having a checkered past, the emphasis is usually on the disreputable or negative things that the person participated in. Someone who is labeled as having a checkered past is considered fairly untrustworthy. The word checkered is an adjective and refers to a pattern with alternating dark and light squares, such as a chess board. The word checkered is used literally in such terms as checkered flag, which is the black and white flag used in racing to signify the end of the race. The word checkered is used figuratively to indicate something or someone less than reputable in terms such as checkered past, checkered career or checkered history. The first figurative used of the word checkered occurred in the 1830s.

Checkered past is the American spelling of this term. Chequered past is the British spelling, though increasingly the American spelling is also being used in Britain.


The recent checkered past of Wall Street — and Goldman Sachs in particular — seems to be moving down to Pennsylvania Avenue. (The New York Post)

In this current environment, one important question arises about Kinew’s political future: does he deserve to be treated differently than other politicians with checkered pasts who were disowned and relegated to the trash bin of political history? (The Winnipeg Free Press)

Unfortunately, this chequered past means that Nigeria is still considered a market only suitable for high-risk investors and oil companies. (Forbes Magazine)

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