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be off the rails

1. To be in a state of chaos, dysfunction, or disorder. Our project has been off the rails ever since the manager up and quit last month.
2. To be crazy, eccentric, or mentally unhinged. I think you should cut back on your drinking—you were totally off the rails last night!
See also: off, rail

ride the rail(s)

To travel on a vehicle mounted on rails (especially a train or streetcar). I know it takes a lot longer than flying, but I love riding the rail from Portland to Vancouver. People often romanticize riding the rails across the country as hobos did during the Great Depression, but I doubt many would actually find much pleasure in it.
See also: ride

be (as) thin as a rail

To be extremely skinny or slender. Primarily heard in US. Have you seen Claire lately? I'm really worried about her, she's as thin as a rail! I've always been thin as a rail, even when I tried to gain weight.
See also: rail, thin

ride on a rail

To be punished harshly, often publicly, and perhaps culminating in exile. The phrase originally referred to a punishment in which a wrongdoer was paraded around town on a rail and then exiled. Now that this scandal is public knowledge, I'm afraid that I'm going to ride on a rail before it's all over.
See also: on, rail, ride

be back on the rails

To resume forward progress or momentum. Primarily heard in UK. Now that we have funding again, our research project is back on the rails.
See also: back, on, rail

go off the rails

1. To go into a state of chaos, dysfunction, or disorder. Our project has started going off the rails ever since the manager up and quit last month.
2. To become crazy, eccentric, or mentally unhinged; to begin acting in an uncontrollable, inappropriate and/or socially unacceptable manner. My youngest son started going off the rails shortly after getting into drugs in high school.
See also: off, rail

(as) thin as a rail

Extremely skinny or slender. Have you seen Claire lately? She's become as thin as a rail in the last six months! I've always been thin as a rail, even when I try to pack on some muscle.
See also: rail, thin

rail against someone or something

to complain vehemently about someone or something. Why are you railing against me? What did I do? Leonard is railing against the tax increase again.
See also: rail

rail at someone (about something)

to complain loudly or violently to someone about something. Jane railed at the payroll clerk about not having received her check. I am not responsible for your problems. Don't rail at me!
See also: rail

off the rails

In an abnormal or malfunctioning condition, as in Her political campaign has been off the rails for months. The phrase occurs commonly with go, as in Once the superintendent resigned, the effort to reform the school system went off the rails . This idiom alludes to the rails on which trains run; if a train goes off the rails, it stops or crashes. [Mid-1800s]
See also: off, rail

thin as a rail

Very slender, as in I do not know why she's dieting; she's thin as a rail already. This simile, which uses rail in the sense of "a narrow bar," has largely replaced such other versions as thin as a lath or rake, although the latter is still common in Britain. [Second half of 1800s]
See also: rail, thin

third rail

Something that is dangerous to tamper with, as in Anything concerning veterans is a political third rail. This term alludes to the rail that supplies the high voltage powering an electric train, so called since 1918. On the other hand, grab hold of the third rail means "become energized." Both shifts from the original meaning date from the late 1900s.
See also: rail, third

jump the rails

If something jumps the rails it suddenly changes completely so that it seems to be something different. The story doesn't follow the traditional fairy-tale pattern but jumps the rails halfway through.
See also: jump, rail

go off the rails

mainly BRITISH
1. If someone goes off the rails, they start to behave in a way that is wild or unacceptable, doing things that upset other people or are dangerous. He went off the rails in his teens and was a worry to his parents. The tabloids are full of stories of young stars going off the rails.
2. If something goes off the rails, it starts to go wrong. By spring, the project seemed to be going off the rails. Clearly something has gone off the rails in the process of government.
See also: off, rail

on the rails

mainly BRITISH
1. If something stays on the rails, it continues to be as successful as it has been in the past. So why have these companies remained on the rails while others have failed? Note: If something is back on the rails, it is beginning to be successful again after a period when it almost failed. Co-ordinated action is needed more than ever to put the European economy back on the rails.
2. If someone stays on the rails, they live and behave in a way which is acceptable. She was in a steady relationship and that kept her on the rails. Note: If someone is back on the rails, their life is going well again after a period when it was going badly. I was released from prison last year and I'm now back on the rails with my own apartment and a part-time job.
See also: on, rail

jump the rails (or track)

(of a train) become dislodged from the track; be derailed.
See also: jump, rail

go off the rails

begin behaving in a strange, abnormal, or wildly uncontrolled way. informal
1998 New Scientist If you had…asked him what he was doing, you might have thought he'd gone off the rails.
See also: off, rail

on the rails

1 behaving or functioning in a normal or regulated way. informal 2 (of a racehorse or jockey) in a position on the racetrack nearest the inside fence.
See also: on, rail

ride the rails

travel by rail, especially without a ticket. North American
See also: rail, ride

get back on the ˈrails

(informal) become successful again after a period of failure, or begin functioning normally again: Even after losing all three of their last matches, the club assures fans that they will get back on the rails in time for their next game.
See also: back, get, on, rail

go off the ˈrails

(British English, informal) start behaving in a way which shocks or upsets other people: Away from the routine of army life some ex-soldiers go completely off the rails.
These idioms refer to a train leaving the track that it runs on.
See also: off, rail

rail against

To protest something vehemently, especially using strong language: The students railed against the change to a longer school year.
See also: rail

rail at

To criticize someone or something in harsh, bitter, or abusive language: The workers railed at the new contract that cut medical benefits.
See also: rail


1. n. a story or argument; a story intended to seduce someone. (see also lines.) Don’t feed me that line. Do you think I was born yesterday?
2. and rail n. a dose of finely cut cocaine arranged in a line, ready for insufflation or snorting. Let’s you and me go do some lines, okay? The addict usually “snorts” one or two of these “rails” with some sort of a tube.


See line


n. powdered cocaine arranged into lines. (Drugs.) Max makes the rails too messy.
See also: rail
References in classic literature ?
He found himself in a little floor-clothed room, with a high desk railed off in one corner, behind which sat a lean youth with cunning eyes and a protruding chin, whose performances in capital-text darkened the window.
Guard railed at guard and blows were like to end it,
On the day when Richard Turlington paid his visit to Muswell Hill, two ladies (with a secret between them) unlocked the gate of the railed garden in Berkeley Square.
Moss's court-yard is railed in like a cage, lest the gentlemen who are boarding with him should take a fancy to escape from his hospitality.
A range of gabled little houses, each with one dim yellow window, on the ground floor, surrounded the dark open space of a grass plot planted with shrubs and railed off from the patchwork of lights and shadows in the wide road, resounding with the dull rumble of traffic.
It was as though she had become aware of her youth--for there was but little of spring- like glory in the rectangular railed space of grass and trees, framed visibly by the orderly roof-slopes of that town, comely without grace, and hospitable without sympathy.
He found himself jostled among a crowd of people, chiefly women, who were huddled together in a dirty frowsy room, at the upper end of which was a raised platform railed off from the rest, with a dock for the prisoners on the left hand against the wall, a box for the witnesses in the middle, and a desk for the magistrates on the right; the awful locality last named, being screened off by a partition which concealed the bench from the common gaze, and left the vulgar to imagine (if they could) the full majesty of justice.