A governor and the burden of ‘clog in the wheel’

Many of us have so much got addicted to the substandard forms of some idioms that all efforts to get rid of the problematic versions remain almost fruitless. Despite such moves to establish that ‘more grease to your elbow’ is, for instance, a substandard expression, a lot of guys still stick to it. They refuse to adjust to the correct statement, which is ‘More power to your elbow.”

It is a little understandable that the flawed elements recur because, in language, old habits die hard, especially the one that permeates society. Watching the news on a national TV station last Friday, I ran into someone using one of such injured idioms. At a meeting where some governors were brainstorming on how to arrest insecurity and save kidnapped pupils from the jaws of bandits, one of the agitated governors had to address the gathering. He said, “The issue of insecurity has become a clog in the wheel of progress.”

Because it was a prepared speech, one can rightly guess that the error emanated from the governor’s speechwriters. That it is a popular anomaly is, however, underscored by the fact that the big boss did not realise the need to standardise the idiom.

And what is the issue I’m wailing about? When you mean to do something that prevents a plan or an activity from succeeding, the correct expression is to ‘put or throw a spanner in the works’, not a clog in the wheel of progress. One may not be able to tell the genesis of the mix-up but ‘clog in the wheel’ has been on air and land for long. It is like ‘on a platter of gold’ and ‘a green snake in a green grass’, whose correct versions are ‘on a silver platter’ and ‘a snake in the grass’ respectively.

You should also remember that we have corrected ‘wreck havoc’ in this class. The standard form of the idiom that means to cause a great damage is ‘wreak havoc.’ Another one we recently treated is ‘first come, first served’, which is often mishandled as ‘first come, first serve’.  It is important to add the ‘d’ after ‘serve’, as it is now in its past participle form. Besides, since we are dealing with an idiom, the structure is often fixed.

So, watch and master the uses of the idioms as we have in the following examples:

The issue of insecurity has put a spanner in the works.

After she successfully completed the programme, her boss said, “More power to your elbow.”

David got the job on a silver platter.

You have to watch the politician. He is a snake in the grass. Reports said the flood wreaked havoc in the town.


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