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Sunday, April 02, 2006

The Monkeywrench as Saboteur

Since it's 3:22 AM and no one in NYC is awake, and even my mother in California was sounding a little bored with me via the telefono, I thought I'd go on a belligerant rant pertaining to my favorite topic: Nonsense.

Given this specification, I'd like to talk about the word "monkey wrench." Where does it come from? What does it mean? Why do I derive so much pleasure in fitting this crazy little word into conversations?

First example:

"He totally threw a monkeywrench into my weekend. I'm F'ed! "

Another fav:

"Basically, she's nothing but a monkeywrench"*

*I thought I'd give you a break and not use the F word in this example. Metaphor at its best!

Here, I've turned it into a sort of multi-purpose verb:

"My rent is monkeywrenching the F out of my bank account."

Now, some etymological discourse...

Monkey Wrench

What monkey wrenches have to do with monkeys is unknown. The term for a wrench with an adjustable jaw dates to the early 19th century and is originally British, although now is chiefly North American in usage. It has been suggested that the monkey is an alteration (folk etymology) of the inventor's name, but this explanation lacks supporting evidence.

The phrase to throw a monkey wrench into the machinery dates to 1918, although the metaphorical sense of throwing a monkey wrench, meaning an obstacle or hindrance, is a bit older. On 30 July 1907 the Chicago Tribune published the following:

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

The British version of this phrase, to throw a spanner into the works, dates to 1934.

(Source: Oxford English Dictionary Online)

Wikepedia gives different versions: monkey wrench. They're probably both right. Although, lately, I've been hearing some nasty things about Wikpedia (that their information is not sturdy).

Post Scriptum: This post is dedicated to Amanda Pennelly, who puts up with my monkeywrench sarcasm.


Josh_Hanson said...

Wouldn't the north american usage stem somewhere from the term "grease monkey?" Maybe?

I'm guessing the monkey wrench/spanner in the works is just an updating of the old wooden shoe: i.e. saboteur.

Diana Marie Delgado said...

Josh, not sure about the above...

Josh_Hanson said...

That's probably wise.