Spanner in the works/Spoke in their wheel

Discussion in 'English Only' started by Li'l Bull, Apr 30, 2013.

  1. Li'l Bull

    Li'l Bull Senior Member

    Spanish (Spain)
    Hi, native speakers of English!

    I've just read other threads, but I'm not quite clear if these two expressions would be interchangeable in the following context:

    Two journalists are debating the government's policies. One of them is in favour of what the government is doing to get the country out of the economic crisis it's in, and the other is not. The journalist who is critical of the government's policies (and therefore in agreement with the opposition party) is accused by the other one that his is not the right attitude because he and the whole of the opposition party are doing nothing productive for the country, just making it harder for the government, who are doing their best.

    What would the journalist who is in favour of the government say?:

    1) The opposition party is just throwing a spanner in the works.

    2) The opposition party is just putting a spoke in the government's wheel.

    Thank you in advance.
  2. JustKate

    JustKate Moderate Mod

    "Spanner in the works" is seldom (if ever) used in AmE. I, at least, have seen/heard it only in BE material. Spanner is, as far as I know, invariably BE. My impression is that the two expressions mean the same thing, though.
  3. Li'l Bull

    Li'l Bull Senior Member

    Spanish (Spain)
    Thank you, JustKate. Yes, I believe you Americans say "to put a monkey wrench in it". So if I'd written "The opposition party is just putting a monkey wrench into the government's efforts" instead of what I wrote in 1), would it be the same as 2) to your American ears?
  4. JustKate

    JustKate Moderate Mod

    "Put a monkey wrench in the works" is known in AmE, but "Put a spoke in their/his/her wheel" is a lot more common. If you want to use the "in the works" version, you do have to say "put a monkey wrench in the works."
  5. Myridon

    Myridon Senior Member

    English - US
    I can't remember ever hearing it in this part of the country. (My bicycle has lots of spokes - I don't see how one more could hurt. :))
  6. RM1(SS)

    RM1(SS) Senior Member

    English - US (Midwest)
    I think I've always heard it as "throw a monkey wrench into the works."

    The extra spoke gets inserted sideways, Myridon, while you're using the wheel....
  7. PaulQ

    PaulQ Senior Member

    English - England
    This is what he would say.

    Google Ngram viewer shows “Spoke in the wheel” as starting about 1800 and rising in popularity until the 1930s when “spanner in the works” appeared. “Spanner in the works” then rose in popularity as “Spoke in the wheel” declined. The crossover was around 1984, after which “spanner in the works” became more popular in BE whereas both phrases ran together in AE.

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