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A spanner/wrench in the works

 

An idiom is an expression whose meaning is not readily apparent based on the individual words in the expression. This forum is dedicated to discussing idioms and other sayings.


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Old June 13, 2011, 09:54 AM
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A spanner/wrench in the works

put a spanner in the works (British & Australian) [2 instances in BNC, 0 in COCA, more than 300 in books.google.com]
throw a spanner in the works (British & Australian) [2 instances in BNC, 0 in COCA, more than 250 in books.google.com]
put a wrench in the works (American) [0 instances in BNC, 0 in COCA, 30 in books.google.com]
throw a wrench in the works (American) [0 instances in BNC, 3 in COCA, more than 150 in books.google.com]
throw a monkey wrench in the works (American) [0 instances in BNC, 0 in COCA, more than 100 in books.google.com]
throw a monkey in the works (American) [0 instances in BNC, 0 in COCA, 1 in books.google.com]

poner(meter) palos en la rueda (Argentina) [5 instances in CREA, 32 in books.google.com]

more versions in both languages? subtle differences in meaning? comments?
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Old June 13, 2011, 10:24 AM
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Haven't heard 'throw a monkey in the works'. Perhaps, since it had one occurrence, it was just a mistake.

'Throw a monkey wrench in | into' is heard more often than the others, at least where I'm from. All the American English versions mean sabotage.

He threw a monkey wrench in our plans. = He ruined our plans.
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Old June 13, 2011, 12:19 PM
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Seconding Rusty's comments for AmE.

Also, depending on context, "throw/put a [monkey] wrench in[to]" may be intentional (sabotage) or accidental (ruin), and it typically refers to some change of circumstances or conditions that blocks the original plan from going forward.

Last edited by wrholt; June 13, 2011 at 01:34 PM. Reason: AE->AmE
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Old June 13, 2011, 12:28 PM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by aleCcowaN View Post
put a spanner in the works ...throw a spanner in the works

more versions in both languages? subtle differences in meaning? comments?
I can't think of any variations on these in BrE. There are other related expressions such as

Stick my oar in
Add my spoke to the wheel

but these just indicate inteference, nothing which necessarily stops something working.
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Old June 13, 2011, 02:15 PM
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Thank you everybody!

It looks to me that every version in English is quite flexible and may range from sabotages and active actions to promote a person or group to fail, to delays and people set in their ways and obstructing change.

The Argentine version excludes sabotage involving destruction or harm -it may pursue failure and delays- and it's literally what I understood from "add my spoke to the wheel" with the sole change of a spoke being replaced by a humble stick found nearby. It's an old idiom. Many other expression were created but they survive just as sabotage or haven't survive the technologies involved (In a way, "sonar como un disco rayado", an expression outside the scope of this group of terms, is the epitome of idioms becoming dated by technological progress)

I only know the Argentine version and I am curious about how they convey the same meaning in Spain, Mexico and everywhere.
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