Third wheel or fifth wheel?

Jeramey By Jeramey, 15th Oct 2015 | Follow this author | RSS Feed
Posted in Wikinut>Humour>Funny Stories

A handy way to remember it is "fifth wheel" and not "third wheel".

Why the original expression is "fifth wheel"

One of my biggest pet peeves is people who misuse common expressions, especially if the expression is not that much of a weird idiom, but a reasonable and logical saying.

For example, it is well known that having two wheels or two legs is not that stable, but a tricycle is more stable than a bicycle and a stool is better than a bench -- three points of contact is better than two.

Four is better than three, but that is not the point. Five, however, is no better than four, as there is no stability bonus, the extra is superfluous.

An anecdote

My friend was out for drinks with a couple and was complaining the next day about being the "extra weight" as they were mostly paying attention to each other. A fair enough gripe, but he kept saying he was the third wheel, and I had enough.

"Glen, stop saying 'third wheel', the expression is 'fifth wheel'. You added nothing to the group, like the fifth wheel adds nothing to a car."

"Yeah," he said, "but I'm the third person, not the fifth so that makes no sense!"

"That's true," I said, "but you're also not a wheel. That's what makes it a metaphor!"

What do you say?

Is there a reason you prefer one over the other? What do you think? Do you say "third wheel" or "fifth wheel"?


Colloquialism, English, Fifth Wheel, Figure Of Speech, Idiom, Joke, Jokes In English, Metaphor, Third Wheel

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author avatar Jeramey
Multi-discipline autodidact. Interested in everything from history, economy, language, progressive politics, and film.

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author avatar Sivaramakrishnan A
16th Oct 2015 (#)

Metaphors are more like figure of speech implying comparison though some are tough to connect with.

Thought provoking post, thanks Jeramey - siva

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author avatar Jeramey
16th Oct 2015 (#)

Thanks, Siva! Metaphors do by nature invoke a comparison, but sometimes they are so detached people re-analyze them and take one part literally (third or fifth) and take the metaphoric part for granted (being a wheel) and completely forget that the whole thing is one complete metaphor.

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