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a circular frame or disk arranged to revolve on an axis, as on or in vehicles or machinery.
any machine, apparatus, instrument, etc., shaped like this or having a circular frame, disk, or revolving drum as an essential feature:
a potter’s wheel; roulette wheel; spinning wheel.

a circular frame with an axle connecting to the rudder of a ship, for steering:
He took the wheel during the storm.
a .
a propeller.

Informal. a bicycle.
a round object, decoration, etc.:
a wheel of cheese; a design of red wheels and blue squares.
an old instrument of torture in the form of a circular frame on which the victim was stretched until disjointed.
a circular firework that revolves rapidly while burning; pinwheel.
a rotating instrument that Fortune is represented as turning in order to bring about changes or reverses in human affairs.

moving, propelling, or animating agencies:
the wheels of commerce; the wheels of thought.
Slang. a personal means of transportation, especially a car.

a cycle, recurring action, or steady progression:
the wheel of days and nights.
a wheeling or circular movement:
the intricate wheels of the folk dances.
(formerly) a movement of troops, ships, etc., drawn up in line, as if turning on a pivot.
Informal. someone active and influential, as in business, politics, etc.; an important person:
a big wheel.
to cause to turn, rotate, or revolve, as on an axis.
to perform (a movement) in a circular or curving direction.
to move, roll, or convey on wheels, casters, etc.:
The servants wheel the tables out.
to provide (a vehicle, machine, etc.) with wheels.
to turn on or as on an axis or about a center; revolve, rotate, or pivot.
to move in a circular or curving course:
pigeons wheeling above.
to turn so as to face in a different direction (often followed by about or around):
He wheeled about and faced his opponent squarely.
to change one’s opinion or procedure (often followed by about or around):
He wheeled around and argued for the opposition.
to roll along on or as on wheels; travel along smoothly:
The car wheeled along the highway.
British Military. to turn:
Right wheel!
at the wheel,

at the helm of a ship, the steering wheel of a motor vehicle, etc.
in command or control:
Her ambition is to be at the wheel of a large corporation by the age of 40.

hell on wheels. (def 19).
spin one’s wheels, Informal. to expend or waste effort to no avail:
He spun his wheels on that project for two years.
wheel and deal, Informal. to operate dynamically for one’s own profit or benefit.
wheels within wheels, an involved interaction of motives or agencies operating to produce the final result:
Government agencies are a study of wheels within wheels.
Contemporary Examples

“They think Putin is the only evil in Russia and dream about getting rid of him,” he said, tightening his grip on the wheel.
Think Putin’s Bad? Wait for the Next Guy Anna Nemtsova November 13, 2014

And please keep at least one hand on the wheel since we’re driving in a blizzard.
Dr. Scarpetta Heads to Psych Ward Daily Beast Promotions February 22, 2009

It was only a matter of time that the wheel turned its full revolution.
How Straight World Stole ‘Gay’: The Last Gasp of the ‘Lumbersexual’ Tim Teeman November 11, 2014

One: what do you want, for every presenter to reinvent the wheel every year?
Consumer Tech Is Doomed! Winston Ross January 8, 2013

The wheel goes round and round, and sooner or later the fly on top will be the fly on the bottom.
Obama Will Probably Win. Here Are Some Reasons For Republicans to be Cheerful. Megan McArdle November 5, 2012

Historical Examples

The boy could spoke the wheel of this divorce yet if he set his mind to it.
The Forsyte Saga, Complete John Galsworthy

The automobile, with Henderson at the wheel, was at the door before dawn.
Still Jim Honor Willsie Morrow

Henry Burns was still smiling as Harvey took the wheel from him.
The Rival Campers Afloat Ruel Perley Smith

There was a grim smile on the cadet’s face as he turned away from the wheel.
A Prisoner of Morro Upton Sinclair

The appearance of a number of them suggests, however, the use of the wheel.
The Ceramic Art Jennie J. Young

a solid disc, or a circular rim joined to a hub by radial or tangential spokes, that is mounted on a shaft about which it can turn, as in vehicles and machines
anything like a wheel in shape or function
a device consisting of or resembling a wheel or having a wheel as its principal component: a steering wheel, a water wheel
the wheel, a medieval torture consisting of a wheel to which the victim was tied and then had his limbs struck and broken by an iron bar
short for wheel of fortune, potter’s wheel
the act of turning
a pivoting movement of troops, ships, etc
a type of firework coiled to make it rotate when let off
a set of short rhyming lines, usually four or five in number, forming the concluding part of a stanza Compare bob2 (sense 7)
the disc in which the ball is spun in roulette
(US & Canadian) an informal word for bicycle
(archaic) a refrain
(informal, mainly US & Canadian) a person of great influence (esp in the phrase big wheel)
at the wheel

driving or steering a vehicle or vessel
in charge

when intr sometimes foll by about or round. to turn or cause to turn on or as if on an axis
to move or cause to move on or as if on wheels; roll
(transitive) to perform with or in a circular movement
(transitive) to provide with a wheel or wheels
(intransitive) often foll by about. to change one’s mind or opinion
(informal) wheel and deal, to be a free agent, esp to advance one’s own interests

Old English hweol, hweogol, from Proto-Germanic *khwekhwlan, *khwegwlan (cf. Old Norse hvel, Old Swedish hiughl, Old Frisian hwel, Middle Dutch weel), from PIE *k(w)e-k(w)lo- “wheel, circle” (cf. Old Church Slavonic kolo “wheel”), a reduplicated form from root *k(w)el- “to go round” (see cycle (n.)).

The root wegh-, “to convey, especially by wheeled vehicle,” is found in virtually every branch of Indo-European, including now Anatolian. The root, as well as other widely represented roots such as aks- and nobh-, attests to the presence of the wheel — and vehicles using it — at the time Proto-Indo-European was spoken. [Watkins, p. 96]

Figurative sense is early 14c. Slang wheels “a car” is recorded from 1959. Wheeler-dealer is from 1954, a rhyming elaboration of dealer; wheelie is from 1966.


“to turn like a wheel,” early 13c., from wheel (n.); transitive sense attested from late 14c. Related: Wheeled; wheeling.

Related Terms


[slang “big wheel” for a powerful person] A person who has an active wheel bit. “We need to find a wheel to unwedge the hung tape drives.” (See wedged).
[Jargon File]

(Heb. galgal; rendered “wheel” in Ps. 83:13, and “a rolling thing” in Isa. 17:13; R.V. in both, “whirling dust”). This word has been supposed to mean the wild artichoke, which assumes the form of a globe, and in autumn breaks away from its roots, and is rolled about by the wind in some places in great numbers.

In addition to the idioms beginning with wheel
wheel and deal
also see:

asleep at the switch (wheel)
at the wheel
big cheese (wheel)
cog in the wheel
fifth wheel
grease (oil) the wheels
hell on wheels
put one’s shoulder to the wheel
reinvent the wheel
set (wheels) in motion
spin one’s wheels
squeaky wheel gets the grease


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