Fail utterly, as in Dale crashed and burned three times before passing the bar exam. This idiom alludes to a car or airplane that has crashed and caught fire. [Slang; 1970s]
The American Heritage® Idioms Dictionary Copyright © 2002, 2001, 1995 by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company. Published by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company.