What does “throwing a spanner in the works” mean?

Discover the meaning, origin, and modern usage of the idiom 'throwing a spanner in the works'. Learn its synonyms and how it's commonly used in business and politics.

Understanding the Idiom

Throwing a spanner in the works is an idiom that means to intentionally cause problems or delays in a plan or project.

It is a British expression that is similar to the American expression “throw a wrench into the works” or “put a monkey wrench in the works”.

Origins and Variations

The origin of the idiom is not clear, but it is thought to have originated in the early 1900s in Britain.

The American version of the idiom is “throw a wrench into the works” or “put a monkey wrench in the works”.

The word “wrench” is simply the American name for a spanner.

Is “Throwing Everything but the Kitchen Sink” a Similar Idiomatic Expression to “Throwing a Spanner in the Works”?

Yes, the meaning of the kitchen sink phrase is similar to “throwing a spanner in the works.” Both idiomatic expressions convey the idea of causing chaos or disruption by including everything possible.

The kitchen sink phrase emphasizes the inclusion of everything, while “throwing a spanner in the works” focuses on causing a problem.

Modern Usage

The idiom is commonly used in both British and American English.

It is often used in business and politics to describe someone who intentionally disrupts a plan or project.

Here are a few example sentences that use the idiom:

  • Jack’s inability to show up for practice is really throwing a spanner in the works. The Idioms
  • We were going to renew our lease, but the landlord threw a wrench into the works by increasing the rent. TimesMojo
  • The company’s decision to change the project scope at the last minute put a spanner in the works.

Here are three synonyms for throwing a spanner in the works:

  • To throw a monkey wrench into the machinery
  • To gum up the works
  • To put a spoke in someone’s wheel

Overall, throwing a spanner in the works is an idiom that describes intentional disruption of a plan or project.

It has variations in different English-speaking countries and is commonly used in business and politics.