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spanner in the works

Discussion in 'English Only' started by Paxal, Jul 22, 2009.

  1. Paxal Senior Member

    Paris
    French
    Do "to throw a spanner in the works" and "to put a spoke in someone's wheels" mean exactly the same thing (leaving aside the fact that in the first case it is impersonal whereas in the second phrase you need the reference to a person)?
     
  2. Brioche

    Brioche Senior Member

    Adelaide
    Australia English
    "The spoke in the wheels" is a deliberate, intentional act.

    A spanner can be thrown in the works by bad luck, misfortune, &c, as well as deliberate action.
     
  3. tepatria Senior Member

    Onondaga, Ontario
    Canadian English
    They do mean basically the same thing - doing something that messes everything up.
     
  4. Paxal Senior Member

    Paris
    French
    Thank you both.
    So, Brioche, does it mean that I cannot say that the bad weather put a spoke in our wheels (about, say, plans to go swimming)?
     
  5. Brioche

    Brioche Senior Member

    Adelaide
    Australia English

    I must admit that I have seen references to the weather putting a spoke in the wheels, but only when actually referring to riding a bicycle, and not in a general metaphorical sense.

    So if you are planning to ride your bike to the beach or the swimming pool, I'll allow the weather to put a spoke in your wheels, but if you are going by some other transport, I'd prefer a spanner in your works! :D
     
  6. Paxal Senior Member

    Paris
    French
    Thanks a lot - that was really helpful.
     
  7. hunnybun Junior Member

    English
    Don't bicycle wheels need spokes? Doesn't that mean putting a spoke in a wheel is rather different from throwing a spanner in the works?
     
  8. Brioche

    Brioche Senior Member

    Adelaide
    Australia English

    When you put a spoke in the wheel, it goes at right-angles to the other spokes of the wheel, and thus prevents the wheel from turning.
     
  9. hunnybun Junior Member

    English
    Yes I understand that, Brioche. But it still sounds rather clumsy to me and not nearly as expressive a phrase as "throwing a spanner in the works".
     

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