to throw a monkey-wrench


Senior Member
Deutschland, deutsch

i've been in the movies a couple of days ago and in the film
i watched, i noticed the expression he threw a monkey-wrench,
that triggered quite a lot of laughter. I kept quite, probably i just
didn't get the joke.:eek:
At home i looked up that particular expression. Well now i understand
the meaning, but it is far away from that, what i'd consider funny.
Maybe to throw a monkey-wrench sounds pretty funny for a native tongue.
Is that true? Just out of curiosity.
And more, can someone give me some examples, how to use this
particular expression correctly.

I appreciate your answer(s) very much.
  • JamesM

    Senior Member
    To throw a monkey wrench (I'm not sure if it's hyphenated or not) into something means to introduce a piece of information or a condition that messes up existing plans or processes.

    "I'll drop you off tonight and the Johnsons will pick you up and bring you home. I can't pick you up because I'll be at a meeting then."
    "But Mrs. Johnson's car is in the shop and Mr. Johnson's out of town with their other car!"
    "Well, that really throws a monkey wrench into the whole situation, doesn't it! Let's see... I'll call Mrs. Smith to see if she can pick you up instead."

    "We're ready to launch our Handy-Wipes line next week."
    "I hate to throw a monkey wrench into the whole thing, but there's already a product on the market called 'Handi-Wipes.' You'll be hit with a lawsuit if you try to sell a product with a name that's so similar."


    Senior Member
    USA - English
    The full expression is to throw a monkey wrench into the works. A monkey wrench is called a "spanner" in BE, and the BE equivalent is "a spanner in the works".

    "The works" means the gears, levers, and the like that make a machine operate. If a mechanic dropped his monkey wrench/spanner into the machine while adjusting it, he would cause a problem and probably slow the machine down or stop the machine from working.

    "Everything was going along fine, until my boss threw a monkey wrench into the works by requiring that the Legal Department review every order for parts" would mean that the business had been working well, but then the new requirement to send orders for parts to the Legal Department slowed things down, made things more complicated, and possibly has brought a stop to work altogether.


    Senior Member
    Hi Voxy,

    I found the following meaning on

    In British English the expression is to throw a 'spanner in the works'. 'Monkey wrench' and 'spanner' are both the names of a tool for turning nuts and bolts. If one of these tools is thrown into a working mechanical device - into its 'works', then things will go wrong. A slightly up-dated version of 'sabotage' in which (originally) French workers threw their clogs (sabots) into machinery to deliberately damage it.
    The phrase itself isn't very funny, it's actually kind of old-fashioned, so people were probably laughing at what was happening in the movie (personally, I found humor to be a very difficult concept to get in a foreign language because there are so many cultural references - it took me a long time to understand humor in French).


    Senior Member
    Deutschland, deutsch
    Hey guys you rock. Thank you very much for any of your replies.
    My English has been improved a little bit more this day.
    Again, thank you.

    Matching Mole

    Senior Member
    England, English
    The phrase was probably coined by P G Wodehouse, in a Jeeves & Wooster book, and was adapted in American use, as they don't use the word "spanner".


    New Member
    American English
    "Monkey wrenching" is often used as a synonym for sabotage especially with relation to environmentalist movements. The term ecotage has thus been coined. Does anyone know if the use of monkey wrench as a verb in the environmental sense originated with Edward Abbey's 1975 novel "The Monkey Wrench Gang"?
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