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What Is a Linchpin?

Kathy R
Kathy R

A linchpin is a piece of metal used to keep a wheel securely on its axle. It is also referred to as a lynchpin, linch pin, or lynch pin. It's inserted crosswise directly through the axle's end where it sits securely in place until it is manually removed. Due to its shape, it should easily glide into place without a large amount of force.

The linchpin is not pointed, like a typical straight pin or pushpin. It is flat on the end and rounded on the sides. It comes in a variety of thicknesses to make it able to fit different types of wheels. The end of the pin that does not go into the axle usually has a loop of metal, similar to a key ring, so that the pin is easy to pull out. Sometimes linchpins will have chains attached to them instead of these loops.

Linchpins are used on vehicles with large wheels.
Linchpins are used on vehicles with large wheels.

Linchpins can be made from a variety of materials, including aluminum, zinc, brass, and stainless steel. Some are spring loaded to make removal quick and easy, while others are grooved so they can be screwed into place, allowing for an extra strong hold. There are even linchpins called "safety pins" which do not allow the user to easily come in contact with the base of the pin, which can help to protect wayward fingers.

Cars and smaller trucks do not require linchpins to keep their wheels in place, instead relying on a simple bolt system. Linchpins are primarily used on vehicles with very large wheels, such as tractors. A good place to look for a linchpin, therefore, is at a store that sells farming supplies.

The linchpin is decidedly not a new invention, since there is evidence that linchpins were used on the wheels of chariots and other wartime vehicles in ancient Rome. The word linchpin is an alteration of the Old English word "lynspin," which people began using in the mid 1300s to mean "axle pin." Exactly how the spelling changed over the years is unclear.

Since the linchpin is the device that keeps a wheel together, it is no surprise that over time a second definition of the word, meaning an abstract element that keeps a complicated process together, was born. A person might say, "The wedding planner was the linchpin that made the entire ceremony and reception a success," to indicate how good the person was at keeping track of even the most minute of details. This phrase is in common enough of use for it to appear in major newspaper headlines.

The Meaning of Linchpin or Linchpin Device Still Evolves

Not only has this term changed into a second meaning over time but it has continued to expand into more meanings and uses. Today, when people use the word linchpin or talk about linchpin devices, they might be referring to many different things. Here are a few more ways that this term is now utilized.

Linchpin Technology or Concept

At first glance, this appears very similar to the metaphorical use as described above, but there are a couple of key differences. Number one, this usage is more vast. While the original metaphor was used to say that a single noun served as the piece holding everything together just as a linchpin holds a wheel together, saying linchpin technology or concept more generally refers to an essential connection. It is not just one thing to another, but it can be one idea or one piece of machinery that serves as an essential connection between two or more mediums or notions. For example, a piece of technology that makes it possible for a person to connect with another person across a great distance, like a phone, is sometimes described as linchpin technology.

Secondly, the term linchpin is at times used in this manner to say that a new technology or development is bringing about a greater or a new form of connection than before. This can be a connection between people, such as communication technology, or it can be referring to the most significant piece of a system that keeps everything running and connected. Video platforms such as Skype and Zoom have been referred to in this way as linchpin technology.

Linchpin Personality

Another way that linchpin is used for people is as an adjective to describe their personalities. A person who tries to keep everyone or everything together or who often acts as a peacekeeper is regularly described as a linchpin personality. This type of personality is often seen as a positive trait, especially when he or she is involved in project or business management or as a counselor of some kind. Professionals who consistently show talent at connecting and holding things together usually make good managers and tend to be more sympathetic or empathetic towards others.

On the other hand, sometimes a person who needs to be at or feel like the center of attention is also described as a linchpin personality. This way tends to have a slightly more negative connotation because it suggests that a person wants to be or thinks he or she is like this, but other people may not necessarily agree. If a person has a negative linchpin-like temperament, he or she may try to put themselves into the middle of things to be seen as fundamental. Actually though, he or she is probably not as necessary as they would like to be. Linchpin personalities like this, tend to do this with every part of their life too rather than just one specific thing. It becomes a general attitude or way of existence for them instead of a one-time occurrence.

Linchpin as a Literary Device

This use is taking the old uses and turning them around somewhat. A professor or editor may ask an author to come up with the linchpin to a story before actually writing it. It is the idea of creating or developing an essential part or idea and then writing around that central topic. The linchpin element may be a character, a plot piece, a setting, etc. It is whatever makes the story work. If that piece of the story gets removed then the story falls apart or does not make sense. Some people use linchpin somewhat interchangeable with the idea of a theme too. Themes are the main subject or idea that flows throughout the entire rest of the piece. Without, a theme many papers, particularly persuasive writings, and some stories do not function and flow in a readable, understandable manner, hence the idea of a theme as a linchpin.

Journalism uses this literary device a lot as well. Editors and publishers of newspapers and magazines often ask their journalists and writers to find and highlight a linchpin to build their stories off of before permitting them to even pursue a story. The linchpin here is the, "so why does it matter or why should people care?" or the concept that makes the news or information compelling for readers.

So, what is a linchpin? The answer to that question has become significantly more complex over the years. As the evolution of the term continues, it certainly seems like the term linchpin will serve as a linchpin for many future ideas and developments.

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    • Linchpins are used on vehicles with large wheels.
      By: Andrey Bandurenko
      Linchpins are used on vehicles with large wheels.