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 ]


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  • Off-the-record

    [awf-th uh-rek-erd, of-] /ˈɔf ðəˈrɛk ərd, ˈɒf-/ adjective 1. not for publication; not to be quoted: a candidate’s off-the-record remarks to reporters. 2. confidential: off-the-record information.

  • Off-the-shelf

    [awf-th uh-shelf, of-] /ˈɔf ðəˈʃɛlf, ˈɒf-/ adjective 1. readily available from merchandise in stock. 2. made according to a standardized format; not developed for specialized or individual needs; ready-made: off-the-shelf computer programs. modifier Readily available from retail sources; not customized: a drastically scaled-down program that involves purchasing off-the-shelf computer software (1936+)

  • Off the top

    adverb phrase Before any deductions are made; up front: He demanded his percentage right off the top (1970s+)

  • Off-the-wall

    [awf-th uh-wawl, of-] /ˈɔf ðəˈwɔl, ˈɒf-/ adjective, Informal. 1. markedly unconventional; bizarre; oddball: an unpredictable, off-the-wall personality. adjective 1. (off the wall when postpositive) (slang) new or unexpected in an unconventional or eccentric way: an off-the-wall approach to humour

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