Confusing squeaky wheel cliche explained

Finally, “the squeaky wheel” phrase is explained.  You might be thinking it’s obvious, but is it?

Does the squeaky wheel getting the grease as punishment or reward?  Grease, and the attention needed to apply it to a wheel, might be a positive thing.  Think of a child acting out: they get the attention, good or bad.  The theory there is that a child acts out to get attention, and they don’t care if it’s good or bad.  So, squeaky wheels getting grease is kind of a reward there.

Or is the grease-giving a punishment?  “I’ll fix that wheel for good this time!” I think most people see the phrase as meaning this; the noisy squawker gets taken “out back” for some “fixing”.

It always bugged me that it could mean either thing, though.  I started saying “the barking dog gets fed” instead.  That’s clear.  The loud complainer gets what they want, gets a reward.  That’s how it works in the business world; the departments complaining most noisily get their budgets increased, get their technology upgraded, etc.  The ones who plod along silently get more of the same.  No one knows they’re hurting, no one knows their needs, so they get nothing.

Finally, FINALLY, a quote from Ben Franklin explains the squeaky wheel phrase, and gives us a better way to say it:



Two things here: 1) this is from the rally to restore sanity (Austin branch). ’nuff said.  2) the Austin daily photo is a great little glimpse into Austin if you have a moment. And it’s a great glimpse you’ll miss out on if you don’t have a moment.  😉

Austin, Texas Daily Photo: Great Costume, Ben.


One thought on “Confusing squeaky wheel cliche explained

  1. I have always heard the reasoning behind the squeaky wheel with Benjamin Franklin is he picked a cart with the loudest squeakiest wheel he could find to draw attention when he hauled paper for his print shop. A subtle but effective way to let it be known he wasn’t above doing the grunt work to make his business succeed

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