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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!
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.
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.
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.
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.
(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.
get back on the rails
To resume forward progress or momentum. Now that we have funding again, our research project has gotten back on the rails.
jump the rails
1. Literally, of a train, to derail from the track and lose control. Due to a technical issue, the train wasn't able to slow down ahead of the turn and ended up jumping the rails because of its speed.
2. To veer off in very unexpected directions; to lose or change focus in surprising or bizarre ways. The long-running drama has by this point jumped the rails so completely that it would be foolish to try and summarize it for the uninitiated. The manager's speech really jumped the rails about halfway through, shifting into a weird commentary on the nature of corporate America.
on the rails
Operating, functioning, or proceeding as expected, desired, or intended. Despite his tendency to ramble and veer off into inappropriate tangents, his speech remained on the rails, evoking downright poetic imagery as he spoke on behalf of the men and women who had made the company what it was. It's remarkable that the team's winning formula has stayed on the rails for this many years, as they continue winning championship after championship. His overbearing parents keep a close eye on him to make sure he keeps on the rails and completes his law degree without distraction.
rail at (one)
To criticize, upbraid, or berate one severely and bitterly, especially at length. Humiliated by his lowly position and poor treatment at work, Tom began railing at his family every evening when he got home. The boss started railing on Thomas in front of the whole office for messing up the Roberston accounts.
rail against (someone or something)
To protest, criticize, or vent angrily about someone or something. I spent a lot of my teenage years raging against my parents, but looking back, I gave them way more grief than they deserved. Employees has formed a picket line outside of the company as they rail against proposed cuts to their pay and pension schemes.
An issue or topic that is so controversial that it would immediately damage or destroy one's political career or credibility. An allusion to the electrified rail that powers electric railway systems, its figurative sense is almost exclusively used in relation to politics. Primarily heard in US. I wouldn't even bring it up—trying to withdraw people's social security benefits has long been the third rail of politics. Any talk of dismantling or reforming the current healthcare system has been a political third rail for the last two decades or so.
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.
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!
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]
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]
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.
jump the railsAMERICAN
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.
go off the railsmainly 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.
on the railsmainly 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.
jump the rails (or track)(of a train) become dislodged from the track; be derailed.
go off the railsbegin 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.
on the rails1 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.
ride the railstravel by rail, especially without a ticket. North American
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.
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.
To protest something vehemently, especially using strong language: The students railed against the change to a longer school year.
To criticize someone or something in harsh, bitter, or abusive language: The workers railed at the new contract that cut medical benefits.
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.
n. powdered cocaine arranged into lines. (Drugs.) Max makes the rails too messy.