WORDS & PHRASES
IN GENERAL USE WITH POSSIBLE RAILROAD ORIGIN
(Including common expressions that are actually railroad metaphors.)
Many common English expressions are actually technical terms relating to older technology – but the origin is often forgotten as the meaning of the phrase evolves.
Can you document that any of the following guesses actually derive from railroad terminology (or that they do not) – or can you suggest others?
express, express line
just the ticket
make the grade
don't/to get sidetracked
on the wrong track
on the right track
living on the wrong side of the tracks
whistle stop tour
Letting off steam
blowing your stack
light at the end of the tunnel
keeping/staying on track
bells and whistles - "The Central Pacific company had thirty locomotives gayly decked ranged on the city front, and at the signal of a gun announcing the driving of the last spike on the road the locomotives opened a chorus of whistles, and all the bells and steam whistles in the city joined." May 10, 1869.
that's the ticket
hell on wheels
Sabotage - "the practice by striking French railway workers of cutting the sabot [metal shoe] that held railroad tracks in place. The word appears in English in 1910 and early use specifically refers to the French railroad strikers."
train wreck - as in, "This project is a train wreck"
freight train - as in, "He hits like a freight train"
end of the line - as in, "It's the end of the line for you"