linchpin

or lynch·pin

[ linch-pin ]
/ ˈlɪntʃˌpɪn /

noun

a pin inserted through the end of an axletree to keep the wheel on.
something that holds the various elements of a complicated structure together: The monarchy was the linchpin of the nation's traditions and society.

Origin of linchpin

First recorded in 1350–1400; unexplained alteration of Middle English linpin, lynspin, equivalent to lyns, linch, lens, Old English lynis “axle-pin, axletree” (cognate with German Lünse ) + pin pin
Dictionary.com Unabridged Based on the Random House Unabridged Dictionary, © Random House, Inc. 2020

VOCAB BUILDER

What does linchpin mean?

A linchpin is the person or thing that serves as the essential element in a complicated or delicate system or structure—the one that holds everything together.

This sense of linchpin is based on its original, literal meaning: an actual pin used to attach a wheel to the axle of a carriage or wagon to keep the wheel from falling off. It’s a good metaphor: a linchpin is someone or something that keeps the wheels from falling off of an operation—they keep the whole thing working. It can also be spelled lynchpin.

Example: Their point guard wasn’t their main scorer, but she was the linchpin to the team’s success, and they started to lose a lot of games after she was injured.

Where does linchpin come from?

The first records of linchpin come from the 1300s. It’s an alteration of the Middle English word lynspin, which came from a combination of the Old English lynis (the name for an axle-pin) and the word pin (which accurately describes both the shape and function of the object). Its metaphorical use wasn’t recorded until much later.

A literal linchpin may not be big, but without it, the wheel—and therefore the entire carriage—becomes useless. Similarly, a linchpin of a company or other organization is someone whose work is crucial to the work of everyone else. If they were to leave or quit, everything would fall apart. (The word kingpin is used in a similar way to refer to the most crucial or important part of something, or the chief of an organization, but a linchpin in a company isn’t necessarily the boss.)

A linchpin isn’t always a person. It can be a group, institution, or any fundamental element of something. For example, the middle class is often called the linchpin of the economy. A linchpin in this sense is a lot like that one Jenga block that keeps the whole tower standing—pull it out and everything comes tumbling down.

Did you know ... ?

What are some other forms related to linchpin?

  • lynchpin (alternate spelling)

What are some synonyms for linchpin?

What are some words that share a root or word element with linchpin? 

What are some words that often get used in discussing linchpin?

How is linchpin used in real life?

People often used the word linchpin in observations about what they consider to be the most important element of an organization or structure, especially when it has collapsed or failed after that element was removed or weakened in some way.

 

 

Try using linchpin!

Is linchpin used correctly in the following sentence?

Having him as the spokesperson is the linchpin of the ad campaign—without him, it simply won’t work.

Example sentences from the Web for linchpin

British Dictionary definitions for linchpin

linchpin

lynchpin

/ (ˈlɪntʃˌpɪn) /

noun

a pin placed transversely through an axle to keep a wheel in position
a person or thing regarded as an essential or coordinating elementthe linchpin of the company

Word Origin for linchpin

C14 lynspin, from Old English lynis
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