off the rails

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Suggesting the derailment of a locomotive.


  • (file)

Prepositional phrase[edit]

off the rails

  1. Used other than figuratively or idiomatically: see off,‎ rail.
  2. (idiomatic) In an abnormal manner, especially in a manner that causes damage or malfunctioning
  3. (idiomatic) Insane.
  4. (idiomatic) Off the intended path.
    • 2009 July 13, Ed Bentley, “Lenin 1, Tsar Nicholas 0 – but Sheremetyevo-3”, in Moscow News:
      ... but the plan came off the rails when infuriated Communists called it "ideological provocation" and warned against "kindling political confrontation
    • 2022 August 10, Mel Holley, “Network News: Question marks over TransPennine upgrade spending”, in RAIL, number 963, page 24:
      "The DfT appears to have put things on a firmer footing, but the path is littered with cautionary tales of transport projects that later went off the rails.
  5. (idiomatic) Out of control.
    • 2009 July 10, Jenny Johnston, “You won't catch us going to rehab: So have the young stars of Harry Potter turned into superbrats?”, in Daily Mail:
      I reckon it's pretty astonishing that none of us did go off the rails. There really was no telling how any of us would deal with the pressures and the fame.

Usage notes[edit]

  • Most commonly used with the verb "to go", but also with forms of "to be", "to come", etc.