Spin one’s wheels

Spin one’s wheels is an idiom that has been in use for several decades. An idiom is a word, group of words or phrase that has a figurative meaning that is not easily deduced from its literal definition. Often using descriptive imagery or metaphors, common idioms are words and phrases used in the English language in order to convey a concise idea, and are often spoken or are considered informal or conversational. English idioms can illustrate emotion more quickly than a phrase that has a literal meaning, even when the etymology or origin of the idiomatic expression is lost. An idiom is a metaphorical figure of speech, and it is understood that it is not a use of literal language. Figures of speech have definitions and connotations that go beyond the literal meaning of the words. Mastery of the turn of phrase of an idiom, which may use slang words, or other parts of speech is essential for the English learner. Many English as a Second Language students do not understand idiomatic expressions such as in a blue moon, spill the beans, let the cat out of the bag, in the same boat, bite the bullet, barking up the wrong tree, kick the bucket, hit the nail on the head, face the music, under the weather, piece of cake, when pigs fly, and raining cats and dogs, as they attempt to translate them word for word, which yields only the literal meaning. English phrases that are idioms should not be taken literally. In addition to learning vocabulary and grammar, one must understand the phrasing of the figurative language of idiomatic phrases in order to know English like a native speaker. 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.


“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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