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Last updated at 13:09 BST, Tuesday, 24 April 2012

A spanner in the works

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Jennifer sees Helen fixing the pipes using a tool kit after her boss mentioned the expression 'a spanner into the works'. Did her boss really want her to turn her hand to plumbing? Find out more in The English We Speak.

A spanner

Is there a real spanner in the works?

The script for this programme

Jen: Hi, I'm Jennifer and I'm on the lookout for Helen – someone said they saw her going into the basement earlier… Oh wait, there she is, with… a tool kit? What on earth are you doing? There are pipes all over the floor!

Helen: Oh hi Jen! I'm quite busy down here trying to fix these pipes.

Jen: Fix the pipes? But you're not a plumber, you don't know anything about pipes!

Helen: I know, but the boss asked me to try and fix them.

Jen: Really? Are you sure that's what he said? It seems strange he'd ask you to turn your hand to plumbing.

Helen: I knew you'd say that, so I printed off his email to show you. Look, it says "About the project - someone has thrown a spanner into the works, and I'd like you to sort it out"…

Jen: But Helen…

Helen: ….so I'm looking for the spanner in the works!

Jen: Oh Helen, you shouldn't take it literally! In English, if someone throws a spanner into the works, it means they do something to spoil a plan or make it more complicated.

Helen: Oh… A spanner in the works… So there isn't a real spanner in here.

Jen: I don't think so… Let's hear some examples to help explain the phrase.

  • This hospital appointment on the 15th has thrown a real spanner in the works for our holiday – we'll have to come back early.
  • The budget cuts have thrown a real spanner in the works for the future of the project.

Helen: So this is a phrase we can use to describe something which has gone wrong. The boss said that someone had thrown a spanner in the works of our project…

Jen: He means that something has happened that will make the project more complicated. Perhaps you should talk to him to find out what the problem is before you start taking the building to pieces!

Helen: You're right. So I suppose we'd better clear up some of this mess… But I can't remember where all the pipes go!

Jen: Oh no! Well let's just try and fit them in as best we can.

V/O: Some time later…

Jen: Well the pipes are all in, but nothing's working. We're going to be in so much trouble.

Helen: We're not defeated yet. Stand back…

Jen: Helen… what are you doing with that huge spanner….

Helen: I'm throwing… it… into… the… works…

Helen: It works! I did it!

Jen: You did! With a real life spanner in the works!

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