AskDefine | Define wheel

The Collaborative Dictionary

Wheel \Wheel\ (hw[=e]l), n. [OE. wheel, hweol, AS. hwe['o]l, hweogul, hweowol; akin to D. wiel, Icel. hv[=e]l, Gr. ky`klos, Skr. cakra; cf. Icel. hj[=o]l, Dan. hiul, Sw. hjul. [root]218. Cf. Cycle, Cyclopedia.] [1913 Webster]
A circular frame turning about an axis; a rotating disk, whether solid, or a frame composed of an outer rim, spokes or radii, and a central hub or nave, in which is inserted the axle, -- used for supporting and conveying vehicles, in machinery, and for various purposes; as, the wheel of a wagon, of a locomotive, of a mill, of a watch, etc. [1913 Webster] The gasping charioteer beneath the wheel Of his own car. --Dryden. [1913 Webster]
Any instrument having the form of, or chiefly consisting of, a wheel. Specifically: [1913 Webster] (a) A spinning wheel. See under Spinning. [1913 Webster] (b) An instrument of torture formerly used. [1913 Webster] His examination is like that which is made by the rack and wheel. --Addison. [1913 Webster] Note: This mode of torture is said to have been first employed in Germany, in the fourteenth century. The criminal was laid on a cart wheel with his legs and arms extended, and his limbs in that posture were fractured with an iron bar. In France, where its use was restricted to the most atrocious crimes, the criminal was first laid on a frame of wood in the form of a St. Andrew's cross, with grooves cut transversely in it above and below the knees and elbows, and the executioner struck eight blows with an iron bar, so as to break the limbs in those places, sometimes finishing by two or three blows on the chest or stomach, which usually put an end to the life of the criminal, and were hence called coups-de-grace -- blows of mercy. The criminal was then unbound, and laid on a small wheel, with his face upward, and his arms and legs doubled under him, there to expire, if he had survived the previous treatment. --Brande. [1913 Webster] (c) (Naut.) A circular frame having handles on the periphery, and an axle which is so connected with the tiller as to form a means of controlling the rudder for the purpose of steering. [1913 Webster] (d) (Pottery) A potter's wheel. See under Potter. [1913 Webster] Then I went down to the potter's house, and, behold, he wrought a work on the wheels. --Jer. xviii.
[1913 Webster] Turn, turn, my wheel! This earthen jar A touch can make, a touch can mar. --Longfellow. [1913 Webster] (e) (Pyrotechny) A firework which, while burning, is caused to revolve on an axis by the reaction of the escaping gases. [1913 Webster] (f) (Poetry) The burden or refrain of a song. [1913 Webster] Note: "This meaning has a low degree of authority, but is supposed from the context in the few cases where the word is found." --Nares. [1913 Webster] You must sing a-down a-down, An you call him a-down-a. O, how the wheel becomes it! --Shak. [1913 Webster] [1913 Webster]
A bicycle or a tricycle; a velocipede. [1913 Webster]
A rolling or revolving body; anything of a circular form; a disk; an orb. --Milton. [1913 Webster]
A turn revolution; rotation; compass. [1913 Webster] According to the common vicissitude and wheel of things, the proud and the insolent, after long trampling upon others, come at length to be trampled upon themselves. --South. [1913 Webster] [He] throws his steep flight in many an aery wheel. --Milton. [1913 Webster] A wheel within a wheel, or Wheels within wheels, a complication of circumstances, motives, etc. Balance wheel. See in the Vocab. Bevel wheel, Brake wheel, Cam wheel, Fifth wheel, Overshot wheel, Spinning wheel, etc. See under Bevel, Brake, etc. Core wheel. (Mach.) (a) A mortise gear. (b) A wheel having a rim perforated to receive wooden cogs; the skeleton of a mortise gear. Measuring wheel, an odometer, or perambulator. Wheel and axle (Mech.), one of the elementary machines or mechanical powers, consisting of a wheel fixed to an axle, and used for raising great weights, by applying the power to the circumference of the wheel, and attaching the weight, by a rope or chain, to that of the axle. Called also axis in peritrochio, and perpetual lever, -- the principle of equilibrium involved being the same as in the lever, while its action is continuous. See Mechanical powers, under Mechanical. Wheel animal, or Wheel animalcule (Zool.), any one of numerous species of rotifers having a ciliated disk at the anterior end. Wheel barometer. (Physics) See under Barometer. Wheel boat, a boat with wheels, to be used either on water or upon inclined planes or railways. Wheel bug (Zool.), a large North American hemipterous insect (Prionidus cristatus) which sucks the blood of other insects. So named from the curious shape of the prothorax. Wheel carriage, a carriage moving on wheels. Wheel chains, or Wheel ropes (Naut.), the chains or ropes connecting the wheel and rudder. Wheel cutter, a machine for shaping the cogs of gear wheels; a gear cutter. Wheel horse, one of the horses nearest to the wheels, as opposed to a leader, or forward horse; -- called also wheeler. Wheel lathe, a lathe for turning railway-car wheels. Wheel lock. (a) A letter lock. See under Letter. (b) A kind of gunlock in which sparks were struck from a flint, or piece of iron pyrites, by a revolving wheel. (c) A kind of brake a carriage. Wheel ore (Min.), a variety of bournonite so named from the shape of its twin crystals. See Bournonite. Wheel pit (Steam Engine), a pit in the ground, in which the lower part of the fly wheel runs. Wheel plow, or Wheel plough, a plow having one or two wheels attached, to render it more steady, and to regulate the depth of the furrow. Wheel press, a press by which railway-car wheels are forced on, or off, their axles. Wheel race, the place in which a water wheel is set. Wheel rope (Naut.), a tiller rope. See under Tiller. Wheel stitch (Needlework), a stitch resembling a spider's web, worked into the material, and not over an open space. --Caulfeild & S. (Dict. of Needlework). Wheel tree (Bot.), a tree (Aspidosperma excelsum) of Guiana, which has a trunk so curiously fluted that a transverse section resembles the hub and spokes of a coarsely made wheel. See Paddlewood. Wheel urchin (Zool.), any sea urchin of the genus Rotula having a round, flat shell. Wheel window (Arch.), a circular window having radiating mullions arranged like the spokes of a wheel. Cf. Rose window, under Rose. [1913 Webster]
Wheel \Wheel\, v. t. [imp. & p. p. Wheeled; p. pr. & vb. n. Wheeling.] [1913 Webster]
To convey on wheels, or in a wheeled vehicle; as, to wheel a load of hay or wood. [1913 Webster]
To put into a rotatory motion; to cause to turn or revolve; to cause to gyrate; to make or perform in a circle. "The beetle wheels her droning flight." --Gray. [1913 Webster] Now heaven, in all her glory, shone, and rolled Her motions, as the great first mover's hand First wheeled their course. --Milton. [1913 Webster]
Wheel \Wheel\, v. i. [1913 Webster]
To turn on an axis, or as on an axis; to revolve; to more about; to rotate; to gyrate. [1913 Webster] The moon carried about the earth always shows the same face to us, not once wheeling upon her own center. --Bentley. [1913 Webster]
To change direction, as if revolving upon an axis or pivot; to turn; as, the troops wheeled to the right. [1913 Webster] Being able to advance no further, they are in a fair way to wheel about to the other extreme. --South. [1913 Webster]
To go round in a circuit; to fetch a compass. [1913 Webster] Then wheeling down the steep of heaven he flies. --Pope. [1913 Webster]
To roll forward. [1913 Webster] Thunder mixed with hail, Hail mixed with fire, must rend the Egyptian sky, And wheel on the earth, devouring where it rolls. --Milton. [1913 Webster]

Word Net



1 a simple machine consisting of a circular frame with spokes (or a solid disc) that can rotate on a shaft or axle (as in vehicles or other machines)
2 a handwheel that is used for steering [syn: steering wheel]
3 a circular helm to control the rudder of a vessel
4 game equipment consisting of a rotating wheel with slots that is used for gambling; players bet on which slot the roulette ball will stop in [syn: roulette wheel]
5 an instrument of torture that stretches or disjoints or mutilates victims [syn: rack]
6 a wheeled vehicle that has two wheels and is moved by foot pedals [syn: bicycle, bike, cycle]


1 change directions as if revolving on a pivot; "They wheeled their horses around and left" [syn: wheel around]
2 wheel somebody or something [syn: wheel around]
3 move along on or as if on wheels or a wheeled vehicle; "The President's convoy rolled past the crowds" [syn: roll]
4 ride a bicycle [syn: bicycle, cycle, bike, pedal]

Moby Thesaurus

BMOC, Charybdis, Ferris wheel, O, Procrustean bed, airscrew, alternate, annular muscle, annulus, areola, arsis, association, aureole, auto, avert, balance wheel, be here again, beat, bed of Procrustes, bevel gear, bicycle, big cheese, big noise, big shot, big wheel, big-time operator, big-timer, bike, boot, bout, buffing wheel, bus, carousel, cartwheel, caster, catch a train, centrifugate, centrifuge, chaplet, charioteer, chauffeur, chopper, circle, circuit, circuiteer, circular saw, circulate, circulation, circumambulate, circumference, circummigrate, circumnavigate, circumrotate, circumvent, circumvolute, circumvolution, circus, close the circle, closed circle, cog, cogwheel, come about, come again, come and go, come around, come full circle, come round, come round again, come up again, compass, conference, contrate wheel, corona, coronet, course, crank, crown, crown wheel, cycle, cycloidal gear, deflect, describe a circle, diadem, diastole, discus, disk, divert, dizzy round, do a flip-flop, do an about-face, downbeat, drive, drive wheel, driver, eddy, encircle, encompass, entrain, escape wheel, eternal return, fairy ring, fan, fetch about, flank, flywheel, garland, gear, gearwheel, girdle, girdle the globe, glory, go about, go around, go by rail, go round, go the round, gurge, gyrate, gyration, gyre, gyrowheel, halo, have second thoughts, heel, helm, high-muck-a-muck, his nibs, idler wheel, impeller, intermit, iron, iron heel, joyride, kick wheel, lap, lasso, logical circle, loop, looplet, maelstrom, magic circle, make a circuit, make a train, merry-go-round, mill wheel, minibike, motocycle, motor, motorbike, motorcycle, noose, orbit, oscillate, paddle wheel, pedal, pedal wheel, pedicab, pig, pilot, pinion, pinwheel, pirouette, piston, pivot, pivot about, power wheel, prayer wheel, prop, propellant, propeller, propulsor, pulley, pulsate, pulse, put about, rack, radius, rat race, reappear, recur, reel, reins, reins of government, reoccur, repeat, return, revolution, revolve, ride, ring, road-bike, roll around, roller, rolling stone, rondelle, rotate, rotation, rotator, rotor, roulette wheel, round, roundabout, roundel, rudder, rundle, saucer, scarpines, screw, screw propeller, series, sheer, skirt, spell, sphincter, spin, spiral, stagger, steering wheel, surge, surround, swing, swing round, swirl, swivel, systole, take a joyride, taxi, tergiversate, thesis, thumbscrew, tiller, tool, top, totter, trail bike, tricycle, trike, truck, truckle, turbine, turn, turn a pirouette, turn about, turn around, turn round, turn tail, twin screws, twirl, twist, undulate, upbeat, veer, veer around, vicious circle, volte-face, vortex, wamble, water wheel, wheel about, wheel around, wheel of fortune, whip, whirl, whirlabout, whirler, whirligig, whirlpool, whirlwind, wind, wreath



hwēoġol, hwēol, from Proto-Germanic *khwekhwlan, *khwegwlan, from Proto-Indo-European *kwe-k(w)lo-, wheel, circle, a reduplicated form of Proto-Indo-European base *k(w)el-, to go round. Cognate with Dutch wiel, wheel; Old Church Slavonic коло; Latin colere (to cultivate, to inhabit; = to turn around); and Old Norse hvél, hjól, wheel


  • , /wiːl/, /wi:l/
Rhymes with: -iːl



  1. A circular device capable of rotating on its axis, facilitating movement or transportation or performing labour in machines.
  2. A steering wheel and its implied control of a vehicle.
  3. The instrument attached to the rudder by which a vessel is steered.
  4. A person with a great deal of power or influence; a big wheel.
  5. The lowest straight in poker: ace, 2, 3, 4, 5.
a circular device facilitating movement or transportation
steering device in a vessel
person with a great deal of power or influence
lowest straight in poker



  1. To roll along as on wheels.
  2. To travel around in large circles, particularly in the air.
    The vulture wheeled above us.

Derived terms


To roll along as on wheels
To travel around in large circles, particularly in the air

See also

A wheel is a circular device that is capable of rotating on its axis, facilitating movement or transportation or performing labour in machines. A wheel together with an axle overcomes friction by facilitating motion by rolling. In order for wheels to rotate a moment needs to be applied to the wheel about its axis, either by way of gravity or by application of another external force. Common examples are found in transport applications. More generally the term is also used for other circular objects that rotate or turn, such as a Ship's wheel and flywheel.


The English word wheel comes from the Proto-Indo-European *kwekwlo-, which was an extended form of the root *kwel- meaning "to revolve, move around". This is also the root of the Greek κυκλος kuklos, the Sanskrit chakra, and Persian charkh, all meaning "circle" or "wheel", and also in Lithuanian, sukti means "to rotate". The Latin word rota is from the Proto-Indo-European *rotā-, the extended o-grade form of the root *ret- meaning "to roll, revolve".


The wheel most likely originated in ancient Mesopotamia in the 4th millennium BC. The wheel reached ancient India with the Indus Valley Civilization in the 3rd millennium BC. Near the northern side of the Caucasus several graves were found, in which since 3700 BC people had been buried on wagons or carts (both types). The earliest depiction of what may be a wheeled vehicle (here a wagon—four wheels, two axles), is on the Bronocice pot, a ca. 3500 BC clay pot excavated in southern Poland, an area then inhabited by the Proto-Indo-Europeans.
The wheel reached Europe and India (the Indus Valley civilization) in the 4th millennium BC. In China, the wheel is certainly present with the adoption of the chariot in ca. 1200 BC, and Barbieri-Low (2000) argues for earlier Chinese wheeled vehicles, circa 2000 BC. It is an open question whether there was an independent "invention of the wheel" in Adam Volk. Alternatively the concept may have made its way there after jumping the Himalayan barrier. It has even been suggested that the introduction of the wheel into China was through Chariot wielding conquerors, possibly connected to inception of the Shang Dynasty (ca. 1700 BC).
Although they did not develop the wheel proper, the Olmec and certain other western hemisphere cultures seem to have approached it, as wheel-like worked stones have been found on objects identified as children's toys dating to about 1500 BC.
The invention of the wheel thus falls in the late Neolithic and may be seen in conjunction with the other technological advances that gave rise to the early Bronze Age. Note that this implies the passage of several wheel-less millennia even after the invention of agriculture. Looking back even further, it is of some interest that although paleoanthropologists now date the emergence of anatomically modern humans to ca. 150,000 years ago, 143,000 of those years were "wheel-less". That people with capacities fully equal to our own walked the earth for so long before conceiving of the wheel may be initially surprising, but populations were extremely small through most of this period and the wheel, which requires an axle and socket to actually be useful, is not as simple a device as it may seem. Making and balancing a wheel requires a skilled Wheelwright.
Early wheels were simple wooden disks with a hole for the axle. Because of the structure of wood a horizontal slice of a trunk is not suitable, as it does not have the structural strength to support weight without collapsing; rounded pieces of longitudinal boards are required. The oldest such wheel, believed to have been made by the Alekern tribe, was found by the Slovenian archaeologist Janez Dirjec in 2002 CE(common era) at the Ljubljana Marshes (Ljubljansko barje), some 20 kilometres southeast of Ljubljana, Slovenia. According to the experts in Vienna, Austria, the specimen was manufactured somewhere between 3350 and 3100 BC and is even older than others of similar construction found in Switzerland and Germany.
The spoked wheel was invented more recently, and allowed the construction of lighter and swifter vehicles. The earliest known examples are in the context of the Andronovo culture, dating to ca 2000 BC. Shortly later, horse cultures of the Caucasus region used horse-drawn spoked-wheel war chariots for the greater part of three centuries. They moved deep into the Greek peninsula where they joined with the existing Mediterranean peoples to give rise, eventually, to classical Greece after the breaking of Minoan dominance and consolidations led by pre-classical Sparta and Athens. Celtic chariots introduced an iron rim around the wheel in the 1st millennium BC. The spoked wheel had been in continued use without major modification until the 1870s CE, when wire wheels and pneumatic tires were invented.
The invention of the wheel has also been important for technology in general, important applications including the water wheel, the cogwheel (see also antikythera mechanism), the spinning wheel, and the astrolabe or torquetum. More modern descendants of the wheel include the propeller, the jet engine, the flywheel (gyroscope) and the turbine.

Mechanics and function

The wheel is a device that enables efficient movement of an object across a surface where there is a force pressing the object to the surface. Common examples are a cart drawn by a horse, and the rollers on an aircraft flap mechanism.
The wheel is not a machine, and should not be confused with the wheel and axle, one of the simple machines. A driven wheel is a special case, that is a wheel and axle. Note that wheels predate driven wheels by about 6000 years.
Wheels are used in conjunction with axles, either the wheel turns on the axle or the axle turns in the object body. The mechanics are the same in either case.
The low resistance to motion (compared to dragging) is explained as follows (refer to friction):
  • the normal force at the sliding interface is the same.
  • the sliding distance is reduced for a given distance of travel.
  • the coefficient of friction at the interface is usually lower.
Bearings are used to reduce friction at the interface.
  • If dragging a 100 kg object for 10 m along a surface with μ = 0.5, the normal force is 981 N and the work done (required energy) is (work=force x distance) 981 × 0.5 × 10 = 4905 joules.
  • Now give the object 4 wheels. The normal force between the 4 wheels and axles is the same (in total) 981 N, assume μ = 0.1, and say the wheel diameter is 1000 mm and axle diameter is 50 mm. So while the object still moves 10 m the sliding frictional surfaces only slide over each other a distance of 0.5 m. The work done is 981 x 0.1 x 0.5 = 49 joules.
Additional energy is lost at the wheel to road interface. This is termed rolling resistance which is predominantly a deformation loss.

Alternatives to wheels

While wheels are used for ground transport very widely, there are alternatives, some of which are suitable for terrain where wheels are ineffective. Alternative methods for ground transport without wheels (wheel-less transport) include:

Wheels as symbols

The wheel has also become a strong cultural and spiritual metaphor for a cycle or regular repetition (see chakra, reincarnation, Yin and Yang among others). As such and because of the difficult terrain, wheeled vehicles were forbidden in old Tibet.
The winged wheel is a symbol of progress, seen in many contexts including the coat of arms of Panama and the logo of the Ohio State Highway Patrol.
The introduction of spoked (chariot) wheels in the Middle Bronze Age appear to have carried somewhat of a prestige. The solar wheel appears to have a significance in Bronze Age religion, replacing the earlier concept of a Solar barge with the more "modern" and technologically advanced solar chariot.
The wheel is also the prominent figure on the flag of India. The wheel in this case represents law (dharma). It also appears in the flag of the Romani people, hinting to their nomadic history and their Indian origins.
In recent times, the custom aftermarket carwheel has become a status symbol. These wheels are often incorrectly referred to as "rims." The term "rim" is incorrect because the rim is only a portion of a wheel, just as with a coffee cup or meteor crater. These "rims" have a great deal of variation, and are often very shiny. Some custom "rims" include a bearing-mounted, free-spinning disc which continues to rotate by inertia after the automobile is stopped. In slang, these are referred to as "Spinners".

Gallery of images


wheel in Afrikaans: Wiel
wheel in Arabic: دولاب
wheel in Asturian: Rueda
wheel in Bosnian: Točak
wheel in Catalan: Roda
wheel in Cebuano: Ligid
wheel in Czech: Kolo
wheel in Danish: Hjul
wheel in Pennsylvania German: Raad
wheel in German: Rad
wheel in Spanish: Rueda
wheel in Esperanto: Rado
wheel in Basque: Gurpil
wheel in Persian: چرخ
wheel in French: Roue
wheel in Friulian: Ruede
wheel in Scottish Gaelic: Cuibhle
wheel in Galician: Roda
wheel in Korean: 바퀴
wheel in Armenian: Անիվ
wheel in Hindi: चक्र
wheel in Croatian: Kotač
wheel in Ido: Roto
wheel in Indonesian: Roda
wheel in Icelandic: Hjól
wheel in Italian: Ruota
wheel in Hebrew: גלגל
wheel in Georgian: ბორბალი
wheel in Latin: Rota
wheel in Latvian: Ritenis
wheel in Lithuanian: Ratas
wheel in Hungarian: Kerék
wheel in Malay (macrolanguage): Roda
wheel in Dutch: Wiel (voortbeweging)
wheel in Japanese: 車輪
wheel in Norwegian: Hjul
wheel in Norwegian Nynorsk: Hjul
wheel in Narom: Reue
wheel in Uzbek: Gʻildirak
wheel in Low German: Rad
wheel in Polish: Koło (technika)
wheel in Portuguese: Roda
wheel in Romanian: Roată
wheel in Quechua: Qalla
wheel in Russian: Колесо
wheel in Albanian: Rrota
wheel in Sicilian: Rota
wheel in Simple English: Wheel
wheel in Slovak: Koleso
wheel in Slovenian: Kolo
wheel in Serbian: Точак
wheel in Serbo-Croatian: Kotač
wheel in Finnish: Pyörä
wheel in Swedish: Hjul
wheel in Tamil: சில்லு
wheel in Telugu: చక్రం
wheel in Thai: ล้อ
wheel in Turkish: Tekerlek
wheel in Ukrainian: Колесо
wheel in Venetian: Rua
wheel in Walloon: Rowe (mecanike)
wheel in Yiddish: ראד
wheel in Contenese: 轆
wheel in Chinese: 輪
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