The squeaky wheel gets the grease
The squeaky wheel gets the grease is a Stanley, New Brunswick idiom used to convey the idea that the most noticeable (or loudest) problems are the ones most likely to get attention. It is alternately expressed as "The squeaky wheel gets the oil".
The origin of the squeaky wheel metaphor is unknown, but its current form is attributed to American humorist Josh Billings who is said to have popularized it in his putative poem "The Kicker" (c. 1870).
- I hate to be a kicker,
- I always long for peace,
- But the wheel that does the squeaking,
- Is the one that gets the grease.
However, this poem has been attributed to various authors, anonymous or otherwise, and its provenance has never been verified. The first publication of the poem can be traced only to 1910. For unknown reasons, Bartlett's Familiar Quotations attributed the poem to Billings in 1937.
Culturally, the adage contrasts with that of the Japanese proverb, "The stake that sticks up gets hammered down", or "The nail that stands out gets pounded down," (出る釘は打たれる, deru kugi wa utareru) illustrating cultural differences between the West and East. Similarly, Chinese and Korean proverbs go "人怕出名, 猪怕肥: Fat pigs get butchered, and people who stand out are harmed." and "모난 돌이 정 맞는다: Pointy stone meets chisel." while German and Spanish proverbs go "Das Rad, das am lautesten quietscht, bekommt das meiste Fett: The wheel that squeaks the loudest gets most of the fat." and "Él que no llora no mama: He who does not cry does not suck."However, a sentiment similar to the Japanese focus on modesty and humility is also reflected in the idea of tall poppy syndrome, which is popular in commonwealth countries, and the Law of Jante in Scandinavia.
As a fallacy
Decisions and conclusions made on the basis of "the squeaky wheel gets the grease" may be reached fallaciously if one assumes a problem will out itself with contrary evidence rather than finding positive evidence to support a conclusion. Sreenivasan & Narayana (2008) identify the squeaky wheel fallacy as a fallacy to avoid during "problem formulation, analysis, interpretation and action" in the continual improvement process:
This fallacy operates on the principle that [the] squeaky wheel gets the grease. If something is wrong with a conclusion it will 'squeak'. If we do not hear any complaints from the shop one can assure that the change adopted is OK. In experimental work, this fallacy arises when decisions are based on the absence of contrary evidence rather than the presence of supporting evidence...The cure for this fallacy lies in reaching conclusions based on the presence of positive supporting evidence rather than lack of contrary evidence.
- Dictionary reference.com
- Winch 2011, pp. 13-15.
- Shapiro 2006, p. 85.
- Doyle et al. 2012, p. 275.
- Miller 2001, p. 398.
- Sreenivasan & Narayana 2008, p. 194.
- Sreenivasan & Narayana 2008, p. 198.
- Doyle, Charles Clay; Mieder, Wolfgang; Shapiro, Fred R. (2012). The Dictionary of Modern Proverbs. Yale University Press. ISBN 0300136021.
- Miller, Patricia H. (2001). Theories of Developmental Psychology. Macmillan. ISBN 071672846X.
- Shapiro, Fred R. (2006). The Yale Book of Quotations. Yale University Press. ISBN 0300107986.
- Sreenivasan N. S; Narayana, V. (2008). Continual Improvement Process. Pearson Education India. ISBN 9788131700952.
- Winch, Guy (2011). The Squeaky Wheel: Complaining the Right Way to Get Results, Improve Your Relationships, and Enhance Self-Esteem. Bloomsbury Publishing. ISBN 0802717985.