Proverb – United States of America

The squeaky wheel gets the grease!

Tracy Mettler states: “I’m not sure exactly when I first heard this phrase. It seems like I was reminded of these words when I was learning to assert myself and get answers and problems solved on my own—maybe 12 to 13 years old. This phrase basically means keep pursuing the answer until your problems are solved.”

Here, the tone of the proverb is positive, a kind of comment about the value of perseverance. However, when my mother first told this proverb to me, it had a negative connotation. Throughout high school, I participated in cheerleading. Certain members of my squad were sort of obnoxious, and their technique wasn’t very good. These were the girls who got the most feedback from the coach. Here, I encountered two different kinds of “squeaky wheels.” First, the kinds who are obnoxious, loud, and whiny, begging for attention and “grease.” Second, the kinds who stick out for their ineptitude and thus need “grease” to function properly and do well. When I complained to Mom about my situation, that the other cheerleaders were getting more attention from the coach, she told me this proverb. Before hearing the proverb, I was concerned that the coach didn’t like me (who knows, maybe she really didn’t). After listening to what my mom said, I decided that it made sense that the “squeaky wheels”—the annoying ones—were given more attention from the coach.

This quote is interesting because it is a good display of the American worldview, where standing out from the crowd is a good thing. Standing out from the other wheels, even if it’s because you’re squeaky, will grant you grease, a great reward. This proverb is stating that being unique and standing out will get you special, better treatment.

Hacker, Carol A. The High Cost of Low Morale…and What to Do About It. Boca Raton, FL: CRC Press, 1997.

Page 193, describes how this proverb can relate to individuals in the workplace.