third rail


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third rail

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.
See also: rail, third

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
References in periodicals archive ?
Schumer, D-N.Y., said at the site of the collision earlier Friday, was how pieces of the third rail had torn off the tracks.
In April an Indiana man was killed after coming into contact with the electrified third rail when he was about to urinate on railway tracks in Evanston, Chicago.
Here we are in 2010 and the railw ays in the south still use the old third rail system with all its problems.
At the time of adoption of the third rail package, a majority of MEPs - but not the qualified majority required - had sought the liberalisation of domestic routes for 1 January 2017.
But as society changes, so does the third rail. At one time, voting tights for women was such an issue.
This unit can supply power to the auxiliary control circuitry from any number of different sources including the third rail catenary line.
They can't vote, so their social security isn't the third rail of American politics.
I was rather puzzled at the response to the Quizzical question about the third rail that appeared in the May issue.
It makes a caffeinated lager called Third Rail for a San Francisco-based firm that markets the beer in northern California and hopes to expand distribution to the East Coast later this year, Frederick Brewing Co.
All these topics and others were bandied about as quickly as images in a movie preview as the president took hold of what's commonly called the third rail of American politics.
steel tube third rail that maintains rigidity to assure this predicable quality.
Because there are no easy answers and it is certain that a number of strong, competing interests will collide in moving forward, some have suggested that health care reform may well replace Social Security as the "third rail" in American politics.
Abortion "Rights" Likened to Social Security "We are going to make women's rights, and especially reproductive rights, another third rail of American politics, just like social security.
every Wednesday at the Third Rail Lounge at Central Square in Cambridge, Massachusetts (617-354-2685; admission: $3).