The term gavel-to-gavel is a relatively new one that some find confusing. We will examine the meaning of the expression gavel-to-gavel, where it came from and some examples of its use in sentences.

Gavel-to-gavel means the time between the opening of a meeting to the end of the meeting. The idea is to indicate the time between the first strike of the gavel, which opens a session or meeting, and the last strike of the gavel, which closes the session. A gavel may also be struck during a session or meeting to restore order or to signify that a decision has been made in a proceeding or a ruling has been made on an issue. Gavels are used in the courtroom, including small claims court, appellate court,  family court, federal court, circuit court, state court, municipal court, district court, or a high court like a state supreme court or the United States Supreme Court. Gavels are not only used in the judicial setting, they are also used by lawmakers in a legislature, either in a general legislative session, a caucus or in committees held in a smaller chamber. The presiding lawmaker of Congress, whether Republican or Democratic, keeps debate over the agenda moving by wielding the gavel. Legislative sessions can get contentious and political before a vote, with much shouting and banging of the gavel. However, an argument involving one elected representative against another must end with the strike of a gavel.  Another situation in which a gavel may be used is in meetings or public forums held by local or state agencies, or in meetings held by companies or corporations. The chairman of such a gathering may bring his own gavel. A gavel is a small mallet that may or may not have a handle. For instance, the gavel used in the United States Senate does not have a handle. It is made of ivory, and is a gift from India. The Senate gavel is a replica of one that was used from 1780 to 1954, which Senator Richard Nixon broke during a heated debate. The word gavel first appeared in the United States in the early 1800s. Its origin is up for debate. Some believe gavel is derived from the Old English word gafol which means tribute. Others believe the word gavel was once a name for a mason’s tool or mallet, and the word gavel was a reference to freemasonry. Gavel-to-gavel is a term that has been in use since the mid-twentieth century, and is often used in the phrase gavel-to-gavel coverage. This is a reference to live media broadcasts that stream the proceedings in a legislature or public meeting, or a particularly sensational court trial. It is safe to assume that the term gavel-to-gavel was coined to describe this activity. Note that gavel-to-gavel is always hyphenated.


Unfortunately, I became distracted by the gavel-to-gavel coverage of the Brett Kavanaugh Senate Judiciary Committee hearing. (The Northwest Arkansas Democrat Gazette)

During the Watergate scandal a now-forgotten columnist wrote a wonderful response to someone who fretted we were hanging our dirty laundry throughout 51 days of gavel-to-gavel coverage. (The Boston Herald)

Taking advantage of the parliamentary immunity on the floor to verbalise and demonise anyone under the sun as well as regulate its affairs, the legislature has assumed the position of God from gavel-to-gavel. (The Vanguard)

The air-conditioned interior features 11 tablets where people can access videos of government and community events, take quizzes and learn about C-SPAN, which offers “gavel-to-gavel” coverage of Congress, uninterrupted by commercials or commentary. (The Maui News)

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