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3 definitions found
 for fifth wheel
From The Collaborative International Dictionary of English v.0.48 :

  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]
     1. 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.
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     2. Any instrument having the form of, or chiefly consisting
        of, a wheel. Specifically: 
        [1913 Webster]
        (a) A spinning wheel. See under Spinning.
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        (b) An instrument of torture formerly used.
            [1913 Webster]
                  His examination is like that which is made by
                  the rack and wheel.               --Addison.
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     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.
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                  Then I went down to the potter's house, and,
                  behold, he wrought a work on the wheels. --Jer.
                                                    xviii. 3.
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                  Turn, turn, my wheel! This earthen jar
                  A touch can make, a touch can mar. --Longfellow.
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        (e) (Pyrotechny) A firework which, while burning, is
            caused to revolve on an axis by the reaction of the
            escaping gases.
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        (f) (Poetry) The burden or refrain of a song.
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     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.
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                 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]
     3. A bicycle or a tricycle; a velocipede.
        [1913 Webster]
     4. A rolling or revolving body; anything of a circular form;
        a disk; an orb. --Milton.
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     5. A turn revolution; rotation; compass.
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              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.
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              [He] throws his steep flight in many an aery wheel.
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     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
     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
     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">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]

From The Collaborative International Dictionary of English v.0.48 :

  Fifth \Fifth\, a. [OE. fifte, fifthe, AS. f[imac]fta. See
     1. Next in order after the fourth; -- the ordinal of five.
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     2. Consisting of one of five equal divisions of a thing.
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     Fifth monarchy men (Hist.), a fanatical sect in England, of
        the time of the commonwealth, who maintained that there
        would be a fifth universal monarchy, during which Christ
        would reign on earth a thousand years.
     Fifth wheel, a horizontal wheel or segment above the fore
        axle of a carriage and beneath the body, forming an
        extended support to prevent careening.
        [1913 Webster]

From WordNet (r) 3.0 (2006) :

  fifth wheel
      n 1: someone or something that is unwanted and unneeded [syn:
           fifth wheel, deadwood]
      2: an extra car wheel and tire for a four-wheel vehicle [syn:
         fifth wheel, spare]
      3: a steering bearing that enables the front axle of a horse-
         drawn wagon to rotate

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