Created on 07 August 2019
Idiom
To throw a spanner in the works
Meaning
To deliberately do something that prevents a plan from succeeding.
Origin

To throw a spanner in the works

Similar to a spanner being put into an engine causing it to stop, the idiom’s meaning is rather calamitous. In The Parliamentary Debates of the New Zealand Parliament (1932), it is written: “Of course, every honourable member has a right to express his opinions, even of a critical nature, but I do think we should expect them to help and not throw a spanner in the gears.” Around the same time, the author P.G. Wodehouse’s novel Right Ho, Jeeves (1934), contains the line: “He should have had enough sense to see that he was throwing spanner into the works.”

Examples

The rehearsals were going extremely well until the lead character threw a spanner in the works and quit the play.

They were all set to begin the project, when his manager threw a spanner in the works and cut their funding.

Dropping out of the presentation now would be like throwing a spanner in the works. My classmates are all depending on me to be there!

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