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off the rails

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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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The American Heritage® Idioms Dictionary Copyright © 2002, 2001, 1995 by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company. Published by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company.

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