A cog in the wheel and a cog in the machine

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The idioms a cog in the wheel and a cog in the machine are two phrases that mean the same thing. We will examine the definition of a cog in the wheel and a cog in the machine, where these terms came from and some examples of their use in sentences.

A cog in the wheel and a cog in the machine describe someone who has only a small role in a company or institution, someone who is insignificant. The idioms a cog in the wheel and a cog in the machine are sometimes used to express a worker’s feeling of anonymity and lack of authority. In truth, if a cog does not work correctly in a machine, the entire machine will not work. These idioms are sometimes used to express someone’s small but important role in a project. A cog is a wheel or bar that contains projections or teeth that fit into the projections or teeth on another wheel or bar, generating torque. A cogwheel is a gear. Cog may also refer to the projections on the cogwheel. There are many different gear types, including the external gear which has cogs on the outside of the wheel, and the internal gear which has cogs on the inside of the wheel. Helical gears have gear teeth that are set at an angle. Other types of gears include bevel gears, planetary gears, worm gears, crown gears and rack and pinion gears. While the shape and motion of each of these gears may differ, they all generate torque as the cogs in each gear wheel or screw meshes together. Precision machining is necessary in order to promote the correct intersecting and  meshing of each gear tooth, guaranteeing the correct gear ratio. Spur gears are the simplest type of gears, as their gear teeth are parallel to the axis of the wheel. Sprockets differs from gears in that the cogwheel in a sprocket meshes with a pulley, rather than directly with another cogwheel. The terms cog in a wheel andcog in a machine are still well understood as the mechanical gear wheel is still used in machinery used to manufacture goods, as well as in automobile systems such as the transmission.The word cog came into use during the 1300s, though the idioms cog in a wheel andcog in a machine did not come into general use until the early twentieth century, presumably when many people went to work for large companies and factories. The plural forms are cogs in a wheel and cogs in a machine.


Since then, with support from many people and businesses – “I’m only a small cog in the wheel” – Gerry has taken part in many fundraising events. (The News & Star)

Regan’s signature style utilises plastic cable ties, a man-made utilitarian object, a small but necessary cog in the wheel of progress and technology, and turns them into striking sculptures of natural, living things. (The Otago Daily Times)

Leaders hold in-depth knowledge of how the engine of their company works, learning about each employee as more than a cog in the machine. (Forbes Magazine)

“We’ve had a great run these last nine years, and a lot of these guys have been a cog in the machine since they were in elementary school,” Gallegos said. (The Waco Tribune-Herald)


Want to know more idiom? Check out some others we covered:

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