spanner in the works

spanner in the works
also, wrench in the works

Meaning

  • a roadblock that prevents an activity from succeeding
  • to deliberately sabotage an activity

Example Sentences

  1. The lack of power has thrown a spanner in the works regarding our MS-PowerPoint presentation.
  2. His inability to procure funding for his trial has really thrown a spanner in the works.
  3. Let’s make sure that we get this done before Suzy comes along and changes her mind again. That will really throw a spanner in the works.
  4. Jack’s inability to show up for practise is really throwing a spanner in the works.

Origin

This is the British version of the idiom. The American version is to throw a wrench in the works. Wrench is simply the American name for a spanner.

To put a spanner in “the works” causes it to grind to a halt. It deliberately damages something.

The origin could possibly relate to the Luddites. They were a group of textile workers in the 1800s who destroyed weaving machines as a form of protest. They were scared that if machines could take over their jobs then they would become obsolete. They were known to throw spanners in “the works” in order to damage the machines.

The British version was first published in 1934 by PG Wodehouse in Right Ho, Jeeves.

He should have had sense enough to see that he was throwing a spanner into the works.

The American version was used on 30 July 1907 in The Chicago Tribune:

It should look to them as if he were throwing a monkey wrench into the only market by visiting that Cincinnati circus upon the devoted heads of Kentucky’s best customers.

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