I've found this phrase in a game or movie. Don't remember now. What does it mean? Is it some kind of idiom?

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  • 1
    Welcome to EL&U. This answer can be found in several online dictionaries. The short answer is that it is an expression for spoiling a plan; in Commonwealth English people may be more familiar with throwing a spanner in the works as opposed to a [monkey] wrench. – choster Jan 4 '15 at 18:36
  • Basically the same (literally) as "sabotage", except with a wrench (spanner) instead of a shoe. – Hot Licks Jan 4 '15 at 20:43

The expression is most likely a variation of the idiom

to put/throw a spanner in the works

It describes the act of sabotaging or hindering a plan or project. The origin is rather obvious in this case if you think about, for example, throwing a wrench (AE) or spanner (BrE) into the spokes of a turning wheel.

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    "Works", meaning the specialized machinery at a factory - so, "teeth of a cog" is probably a more accurate image than, "spokes of a wheel". – Oldbag Jan 4 '15 at 13:45
  • @Oldbag Thanks, you are of course right. My example is more appropriate for the idiom "to put a spoke in sb's wheel", which has a similar meaning. – painfulenglish Jan 4 '15 at 13:49
  • Also see 'throw sand in the gears' -- same cogs/spokes, I think, as mentioned by painfulenglish and Oldbag. – idunno Jan 4 '15 at 17:05

The origin is "throw a monkey wrench into", see http://idioms.thefreedictionary.com/throw+a+monkey+wrench+into

  • Welcome to ELU! Please summarize the contents of the page, as well as linking to it, so your answer will still make sense if thefreedictionary.com rearrange their website and break the link. Also, note that the question asks for the meaning of the phrase, not its origin. – David Richerby Jan 4 '15 at 14:35

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