thin end of the wedge / thick end of the wedge

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thin end of the wedge / thick end of the wedge

Post by Ken Greenwald » Thu Aug 15, 2013 4:43 am

aaa
<2012 “This business with Billy rather floored me, and I think—if you don’t mind my saying—I think it’s the thick end of the wedge.”—Elegy for Eddie by Jacqueline Winspear, page 294>[[1933 London and environs. While conducting an investigation, Billy was attacked and beat up.]]
Since I had no luck in finding a definition for the figurative meaning of thick end of the wedge (not on the Web nor in any of the word and phrase dictionaries I checked), I used my vast powers of deductive reasoning. I figured if there was a ‘thick end of the wedge’ there might well be a thin end of the wedge. And sure enough it was so, with its definition appearing in several dictionaries.

With the ‘thin end’ definition in hand, it seemed that inferring the ‘thick end’ definition would be a breeze. It should be noted that it wasn't possible for me to determine the number of Google hits for the two phrases, since those numbers were mixed in with the hits for the literal meaning. But, as expected, it did appear that the use of‘thin end’ was much more popular than ‘thick end.’

THE THIN END OF THE WEDGE informal (mostly British, Australian, and South African) [1856]: An action or procedure of little importance in itself, but which is likely to lead to more serious (and usually unwelcome) developments; a small beginning which it is hoped or feared may lead to something greater; the start of a harmful development. <There are those who see the closure of the hospital as the thin end of the wedge.>

Etymology: The image is of a wedge being driven into a space and doing its work as the thicker part penetrates.)

(Oxford English Dictionary, Oxford Dictionary of Idioms, Allen’s English Phrases, and Cambridge Idioms Dictionary)
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The following quotes for ‘thin end of the wedge’ are from the Oxford English Dictionary and archived sources:
<1856 “Beware, Englishmen, of the tendencies to hierarchy in your country when the thin end of the wedge is introduced: it will work its way on to all this.”—Memories of Old Friends (1882) Journal of C. Fox, xxii. Page 308>

<1896 “How many reforms have the Tories resisted with the thin-end-of-the-wedge argument.”—Daily News (London), 21 February, page 5/1>

<1957 “One member described it as the ‘thin edge of the wedge’ in a attempt to by-pass the committee.”—Sydney Morning Herald (Australia), 16 April, page 1>

<1989 “[He] argued that a court exemption for peyote use would be ‘the thin end of the wedge’ for other groups to petition for exemption of other drugs, such as marijuana, from criminal laws.”—Washington Post (D.C.), 7 November>

<2002 “Gibraltarians see any notion of sharing sovereignty as the thin end of the wedge. The Independent (London), 25 April>

<2008 “Yes, the registration fee has increased in the Budget but we are worried that this is just the thin end of the wedge.”—Daily Mail (London), 25 October>

<2013 “The group says it is concerned about ‘the pillage of the countryside’. And it fears the plan could be the thin end of the wedge for more homes later.”—North Devon Journal (U.K.), 8 August>
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Now I should be able to deduce the answer to my question. The ‘thick end of the wedge’ means …. means . . . (>:)

THICK END OF THE WEDGE: ??? [[To be determined]]

Well, while I flounder around, Wordwizards from across the sea are probably laughing up their sleeves that this expression would be causing me a problem.

New plan of attack –The following are some quotes from archived sources that I’ll use to try to come up with a definition:
<1879 “The reduction in the value of improvements was an act of repudiation. . . If they conceded this, the thick end of the wedge would be inserted for the further act of repudiation – that of abolishing the interest.”—The Sydney Morning Herald, 11December, page 2>

<1930 “Lord Irwin, the Viceroy asked Gandhi which point he would like discussed first. Gandhi then struck in with the thick end of the wedge and said that the important point was whether any conference called by the government would have power to deal with the question of dominion status.”—Charleston Gazette (West Virginia), 14 may, page 6>

<1967 “. . . ‘anticolonialism’ swept Great Britain at war’s end from every valuable overseas position she had ever known, and drove her back upon and island never meant to be self-supporting. This was the thick end of the wedge; and once it was driven in, de Gaulle of France set out happily to finish the job. He hated England . . . ever since the blackest days of the war.”—The News-Dispatch (Jeannette, Pennsylvania ), 27 November>

<1994 “The magistrate, . . . last week sentenced 16 culprits . . . The 16 all belonged to a now-dissolved police intelligence unit . . . whose activities made it, the judge ruled, ‘an illicit terrorist organization.’ Senior police officers see this as the thick end of the wedge. They are to be made the scapegoats, they feel, for all the murders, tortures and beatings committed during the 17 years of military rule.”—The Economist (U.S.), 9 April> [
]

<2001 “If the world at any level accepted the threat of climate change in 1991, Earth Summit year, then the thick end of the wedge in the years ahead could, in principle, be thick indeed.”—The Carbon War: Global Warming and the End of the Oil Era by J. K. Leggett, page 95>

<2008 “Turning off the power to a house with a ventilator was the thick end of the wedge in a period which has seen power leap in cost.”—Marlborough Express (Wellington, New Zealand), 24 September> [[Women on ventilator died when power to her house was shut off for missing a rent payment ]]

<2012 “However, when it comes to risk-transfer, the private sector is seen to be getting the thick-end of the wedge.”—The Australian (Surry Hills, New South Wales), 17 April>

<2013 “UK should stay clear of Syria: . . . All military intervention in huge, messy conflicts is essentially open-ended, and must be: this is not a dalliance we should start without examining the potentially thick end of the wedge.”—The Times (London), 24 June>
The following are some definition guesses:

THE THICK END OF THE WEDGE: The stronger side of something; the objectionable/bad/difficult/down side of something; the bad end of the bargain; the shitty end of the stick; a raw deal.
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With regard to the original quote (top of page), I would say that there it means ‘the down side of something.’ Three years ago Billy had become the assistant to a private investigator, had encountered no serious difficulties, and had been enjoying his job. With this attack, he encountered for the first time the down side of his work.

And now if someone in the know would tell me what they take thick end of the wedge to mean, it would be greatly appreciated.
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Ken G – August 14, 2013
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Re: thin end of the wedge / thick end of the wedge

Post by Bobinwales » Thu Aug 15, 2013 9:17 am

Ken, I for one will not be laughing at your efforts.

'Thin end of the wedge' is in common use. I have used it countless times myself, especially when I was dealing with industrial relations (on the left-hand side of the table!), but 'thick end of the wedge' is a new one on me.
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Signature: All those years gone to waist!
Bob in Wales

Re: thin end of the wedge / thick end of the wedge

Post by hsargent » Thu Aug 15, 2013 3:41 pm

Would the expression "subtle as a sledge hammer" mean the same as with the "thick.....?
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Re: thin end of the wedge / thick end of the wedge

Post by trolley » Thu Aug 15, 2013 4:14 pm

The thick edge is new to me, too. I can take a swing at it, though. Perhaps it is the end result of a process or the thing that causes the end result. It is easy to drive the slim edge into a block of wood and that doesn't do much damage but it leads to bigger things. It's a start. As the wedge penetrates further, the split becomes greater. By the time you've pounded in the thick edge, the block has split...mission accomplished. Of course, you can't start the split with thick end. It seems similar to "the straw that breaks the camel's back".
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Re: thin end of the wedge / thick end of the wedge

Post by hsargent » Thu Aug 15, 2013 7:50 pm

I will state what I believe is the obvious. The "thick end of the wedge" is only effective for those that are familiar with the "thin end of the wedge" expression.

My son once used the expression, "make like a tree and get out of here!".

I said, "or make like a tree and leave!".

He response was, "that is good too!"

This became a family story.
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Signature: Harry Sargent

Re: thin end of the wedge / thick end of the wedge

Post by Ken Greenwald » Thu Aug 15, 2013 8:36 pm

aaa
Gents, So it is not a common expression out your way. Thanks for that input. The author of my quote at the top of the page is Jacqueline Winspear. She was born and raised in Kent (England), so perhaps it was local dialect she picked from the old folks. She was “enthralled by the stories of her grandfather, a shell-shocked veteran of World War I.”

Harry, I tested various definitions and tried to see if they would work if I dropped them into my list of quotes. I listed several definitions because I couldn’t find one that fits all. 'Subtle as a sledge hammer' doesn’t seem to fit.

John, I like your description of ‘thin’ to ‘thick,’ (‘. . . mission accomplished.’), but one thing that’s missing there is that the expression, as far as I can make out, is always negative. ‘Straw that broke the camel’s back’ – often abbreviated as ‘last straw’ – is not quite the same, but is similar in spirit to ‘thick end of the wedge,’ and one could drop it into the 1994 and 2008 quotes and it would have the same effect. Also, there is a South African columnist who calls his column Thick End of the Wedge (large number of Google hits – probably every column he ever wrote), which could probably be renamed ‘The Last Straw’ and it would work just fine.
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Ken – August 15, 2013
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Re: thin end of the wedge / thick end of the wedge

Post by tony h » Thu Aug 15, 2013 8:54 pm

We use this expression to mean:
- go straight to the heart of the matter (and the matter is a difficult or contentious matter)
- go straight for the jugular
- not pussy footing around


Ideally I split logs with an axe but if they are troublesome it needs a wedge. In splitting a log with a wedge then the thin end goes in first and is quite easy. Then as the wedge starts getting in you can hear the wood starting to creak and split. When the thick end starts to penetrate then the log starts to split wide open.

So the thin edge of the wedge was our daughter asking if she could stay the night or two. The thick end was when a van arrived with all her worldly goods and she stayed for 6 months.

http://youtu.be/oqPUaotjxOM Illustrative but questionable hammer skills.
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Signature: tony

With the right context almost anything can sound appropriate.

Re: thin end of the wedge / thick end of the wedge

Post by trolley » Fri Aug 16, 2013 1:42 am

The 2012 quote may be using the "thick edge of the wedge" as the "shitty end of the stick". The 1930 quote certainly fits in with Tony's idea of cutting to the chase. I think we have a few different things going on, here.
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Re: thin end of the wedge / thick end of the wedge

Post by Wizard of Oz » Fri Aug 16, 2013 9:58 am

.. seems that Downunder the alternate edge of the wedge is not widely alluded to .. however I would take it to mean that the person is cutting to the chase and directly addressing, and naming, the potential problem that would be realised if the thin edge entered ..

.. for example .. "The local group said that it would be the thin edge of the wedge if the council approved the high-rise building." .. could also be discussed or reported as .. "The local group fears that the thick edge of the wedge will be uncontrolled high-rise development." ..

.. when you use the expression thin edge of the wedge the ultimate problem or threat is not normally stated and it is left to the listener/reader to draw their own dire consequence .. and it is true that often people will arrive at different points, although related .. in using the thick edge of the wedge the problem is identified and the initial thin edge is not necessarily spoken of .. many thin edges may be the precursors but all lead to the same thick edge ..

.. so may I offer >> the thick edge of the wedge The more serious (and usually unwelcome) development that arises from an action or procedure of little importance in itself; the greater problem that has arisen from a small beginning; a harmful development.

WoZ who has often driven the wedge
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Signature: "The question is," said Alice, "whether you can make words mean so many different things."

Re: thin end of the wedge / thick end of the wedge

Post by tony h » Sat Aug 17, 2013 9:02 am

Wizard of Oz wrote: .. so may I offer >> the thick edge of the wedge The more serious (and unwelcome) development that arises from an action or procedure of little importance in itself; the greater problem that has arisen from a small beginning; a harmful development.

WoZ who has often driven the wedge
Well done WoZ, nicely done with the one edit being the removal of "usually".
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With the right context almost anything can sound appropriate.

End of topic.
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