Spin one’s wheels

Spin one’s wheels is an idiom that has been in use for several decades. We will examine the meaning of the idiom spin one’s wheels, where it came from, and some examples of its use in sentences.

Spin one’s wheels means to exert great effort but not get anywhere, to try hard without result, to take part in a fruitless activity. The idiom spin one’s wheels came into use in the twentieth century with the invention of the automobile. Related phrases are spins one’s wheels, spun one’s wheels, spinning one’s wheels. The image alluded to in the idiom spin one’s wheels is of a car stuck in sand, mud, or snow, its wheels spinning in a fruitless effort to become unstuck. Snowy or wet driving conditions and road conditions can cause wheel slippage because of a loss of traction control. However, spin one’s wheels refers to a situation in which the vehicle is stuck and cannot move forward or backward, no matter how one revs the motor. Rear wheel drive and front wheel drive vehicles can easily become stuck in certain situations. The invention of locking differentials has solved the problem of independently spinning tires on a car or truck. An all wheel drive system or AWD, also known as a four wheel drive system, or 4WD, has put an end to wheel slip.

Examples

“I don’t want to spin my wheels and spend staff time putting something together that the court ultimately throws out,” he said. (The Mercury)

While she holds out hope for comprehensive immigration reform, which has eluded Congress for decades, she does not want to “spin my wheels on something that can’t happen right now” and is trying to see what can be passed. (The San Francisco Chronicle)

The worst thing you can do in this fast-paced world of innovation is to start spinning your wheels in an attempt to be cutting-edge — and lose the big picture as a result. (Forbes Magazine)

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