a superfluous wheel

ADSGarson O'Toole adsgarsonotoole at GMAIL.COM
Fri Mar 29 20:25:34 UTC 2013

Here is a 1949 cite for "third wheel" used with the desired sense.

[ref] 1949 August 13, Saturday Evening Post. Decadent Angel by Phyllis
Duganne (Short story), Start Page 20, Quote Page 70, Column 3, Saturday
Evening Post Society, Indianapolis, Indiana. (Academic Search Premier
Ebsco) [/ref]

[Begin excerpt]

Certainly I was jealous of Springer, since I was more than half in love
with Campaspe myself. I remember once, in a childish outburst of temper,
that I told Springer I was sick of being the perpetual "gooseberry," the
unnecessary third wheel.

"You don't think she'd come here if you weren't here, do you?" he asked me,

[End excerpt]

The OED has some full-text matches for "third wheel" but nothing relevant
for this sense.

Wikipedia has an entry for "third wheel" but the citations included are for
relatively recent appearances.


[Begin excerpt]

Third wheel

The term third wheel refers to someone who deters the socialization of a
couple, perhaps when being invited out of pity or through a feeling of duty.

[End excerpt]

Wiktionary has an entry for "third wheel" but it presents no citations.


[Begin excerpt]


third wheel (plural third wheels)

    (idiomatic) A person or thing that serves no useful purpose.

    (idiomatic) An unwanted third party accompanying two people on a date.

[End excerpt]


On Fri, Mar 29, 2013 at 10:49 AM, Charles C Doyle <cdoyle at uga.edu> wrote:

> ---------------------- Information from the mail header
> -----------------------
> Sender:       American Dialect Society <ADS-L at LISTSERV.UGA.EDU>
> Poster:       Charles C Doyle <cdoyle at UGA.EDU>
> Subject:      a superfluous wheel
> -------------------------------------------------------------------------------
> I was surprised in my folklore class this morning to discover that only a
> couple of my 35 students were familiar with the expression "be a fifth
> wheel."  Overwhelmingly, their version of the conceit as "be a third wheel."
> They explained that the expression usually refers to a third person
> invited to accompany a dating couple--so the image of four wheels + one
> would be inappropriate.  They were unimpressed by my observation that a
> third wheel would lend stability to a two-wheeled vehicle.
> It's hard to search, but I can't find any instances of "be a third wheel"
> from earlier than the 1970s or so.
> --Charlie
> ------------------------------------------------------------
> The American Dialect Society - http://www.americandialect.org

The American Dialect Society - http://www.americandialect.org

More information about the Ads-l mailing list