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[hweel, weel] /ʰwil, wil/
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.
  1. a circular frame with an axle connecting to the rudder of a ship, for steering:
    He took the wheel during the storm.
  2. a paddle wheel.
  3. 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.
  1. moving, propelling, or animating agencies:
    the wheels of commerce; the wheels of thought.
  2. 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.
verb (used with object)
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.
verb (used without object)
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,
  1. at the helm of a ship, the steering wheel of a motor vehicle, etc.
  2. in command or control:
    Her ambition is to be at the wheel of a large corporation by the age of 40.
hell on wheels. hell (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.
Origin of wheel
before 900; (noun) Middle English whel(e), Old English hwēol, hweohl; cognate with Dutch wiel, Old Norse hjōl; akin to Greek kýklos (see cycle); (v.) Middle English, derivative of the noun
Related forms
wheelless, adjective
underwheel, noun
unwheel, verb (used with object) Unabridged
Based on the Random House Dictionary, © Random House, Inc. 2018.
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Examples from the Web for wheels within wheels
Contemporary Examples
Historical Examples
  • It was evident that he had a scheme of his own, worked by wheels within wheels.

    It Happened in Egypt C. N. Williamson
  • And so the marvels of Nature go on evolving,—wheels within wheels.

    The Log of the Sun William Beebe
  • Oh, I assure you there were wheels within wheels at work there.

    The Shadow of Ashlydyat

    Mrs. Henry Wood
  • But there are wheels within wheels, and it is the little wheels that are the devil.

    A Case in Camera

    Oliver Onions
  • It is a case of wheels within wheels, of mystery crowning mystery.

    Bat Wing Sax Rohmer
  • "wheels within wheels and all of them turning merrily," Zircon said.

    The Caves of Fear John Blaine
  • There are wheels within wheels and a power behind the throne.

    'Tween Snow and Fire Bertram Mitford
  • They forgot that a good spy system is like wheels within wheels.

    Aces Up Covington Clarke
British Dictionary definitions for wheels within wheels


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
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
  1. driving or steering a vehicle or vessel
  2. 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
See also wheels
Derived Forms
wheel-less, adjective
Word Origin
Old English hweol, hweowol; related to Old Norse hvēl, Greek kuklos, Middle Low German wēl, Dutch wiel
Collins English Dictionary - Complete & Unabridged 2012 Digital Edition
© William Collins Sons & Co. Ltd. 1979, 1986 © HarperCollins
Publishers 1998, 2000, 2003, 2005, 2006, 2007, 2009, 2012
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Word Origin and History for wheels within wheels



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



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.

Online Etymology Dictionary, © 2010 Douglas Harper
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Slang definitions & phrases for wheels within wheels
The Dictionary of American Slang, Fourth Edition by Barbara Ann Kipfer, PhD. and Robert L. Chapman, Ph.D.
Copyright (C) 2007 by HarperCollins Publishers.
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Idioms and Phrases with wheels within wheels

wheels within wheels

Complex interacting processes, agents, or motives, as in It's difficult to find out just which government agency is responsible; there are wheels within wheels. This term, which now evokes the complex interaction of gears, may derive from a scene in the Bible (Ezekiel 1:16): “Their appearance and their work was as it were a wheel in the middle of a wheel.” [ c. 1600 ]
The American Heritage® Idioms Dictionary
Copyright © 2002, 2001, 1995 by Houghton Mifflin Company. Published by Houghton Mifflin Company.
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