What’s the origin of the phrase ‘Put your shoulder to the wheel’?
Of course, in trying to understand this proverbial expression and where it came from, we need to know what wheel was being referred to.
Fortunately, that isn’t difficult to determine as all the early uses of the proverb refer unambiguously to cartwheels.
Put your shoulder to the wheelThe expression dates from the 17th century. At that time the wheels on wooden carts and carriages were large, quite big enough to get your shoulder behind.
Roads were rutted and muddy and carts often got stuck and overturned. There was no breakdown service to call – the only recourse was to turn the cart upright and heave against the wheels to make some forward progress.
The first use of the proverb in print that I can find is in the English scholar Robert Burton’s medical textbook The Anatomy of Melancholy, 1621: “To pray alone and reject ordinary meanes, is to doe like him in Aesope, that when his cart was stalled, lay flat on his backe and cryed aloud helpe Hercules, but that was to little purpose, except as his friend advised him, rotis tute ipse annitaris, hee whipt his horses withall, and put his shoulder to the wheel.”
And THAT’s exactly what the patriots are doing!