What does this phrase mean and how will we use it?
"Gumming up the works"
Last edited by anupumh; 21-Aug-2009 at 20:31.
Gum up the works, Slang. to spoil something, as through blundering or stupidity: The surprise party was all arranged, but her little brother gummed up the works and told her.
Hope this helps.
I'd just like to add some information about the origins of these expressions that may help your understanding of them.
'To hang fire' originally meant to refrain from igniting the charge in an old fashioned gun. In these weapons, the charge had to be ignited by hand, by means of a very hot wire, for example. Knowing this, one can imagine a soldier, otherwise ready to shoot, who waits for the order to do so, his 'fire' at the ready. This soldier would be 'hanging fire.'
'We've got everything in line to build the new house. We're just hanging fire until the Building Department finalizes our permit.'
I believe that the expression 'to hold fire' also came from the same situation. However, now, 'Hold your fire' means 'Don't shoot;' it doesn't convey the idea of someone ready to proceed, but holding back for the right time or for permission.
'To gum up the works' originally referred to the workings of some kind of machine with moving parts (wheels, cogs, gears, etc.). If the machine is not properly maintained dirt and old oil will mix (making a gummy substance) and cause the 'works' to slow down and eventually stop altogether. So, people often use this expression to describe bureaucratic or other interference in an otherwise smoothly moving process.
'Let's just make this an informal department policy. If we try to get it approved by the Board of Directors, their lengthy procedures will take forever and just gum up the works.'
I hope this is helpful,