1. a bar of wood or metal fixed horizontally for any of various purposes, as for a support, barrier, fence, or railing.
  2. a fence; railing.
  3. one of two fences marking the inside and outside boundaries of a racetrack.
  4. one of a pair of steel bars that provide the running surfaces for the wheels of locomotives and railroad cars.
  5. the railroad as a means of transportation: to travel by rail.
  6. rails, stocks or bonds of railroad companies.
  7. Nautical. a horizontal member capping a bulwark.
  8. Carpentry, Furniture. any of various horizontal members framing panels or the like, as in a system of paneling, paneled door, window sash, or chest of drawers.Compare stile2.
  9. Slang. a line of cocaine crystals or powder for inhaling through the nose.

verb (used with object)

  1. to furnish or enclose with a rail or rails.

verb (used without object)

  1. to utter bitter complaint or vehement denunciation (often followed by at or against): to rail at fate.

verb (used with object)

  1. to bring, force, etc., by railing.


  1. any of numerous birds of the family Rallidae, that have short wings, a narrow body, long toes, and a harsh cry and inhabit grasslands, forests, and marshes in most parts of the world.


  1. a horizontal bar of wood, metal, etc, supported by vertical posts, functioning as a fence, barrier, handrail, etc
  2. a horizontal bar fixed to a wall on which to hang thingsa picture rail
  3. a horizontal framing member in a door or piece of panellingCompare stile 2
  4. short for railing
  5. one of a pair of parallel bars laid on a prepared track, roadway, etc, that serve as a guide and running surface for the wheels of a railway train, tramcar, etc
    1. short for railway
    2. (as modifier)rail transport
  6. nautical a trim for finishing the top of a bulwark
  7. off the rails
    1. into or in a state of dysfunction or disorder
    2. eccentric or mad

verb (tr)

  1. to provide with a rail or railings
  2. (usually foll by in or off) to fence (an area) with rails


  1. (intr ; foll by at or against) to complain bitterly or vehementlyto rail against fate


  1. any of various small wading birds of the genus Rallus and related genera: family Rallidae, order Gruiformes (cranes, etc). They have short wings, long legs, and dark plumage

“horizontal bar passing from one post or support to another,” c.1300, from Old French reille “bolt, bar,” from Vulgar Latin *regla, from Latin regula “straight stick,” diminutive form related to regere “to straighten, guide” (see regal). Used figuratively for thinness from 1872. To be off the rails in a figurative sense is from 1848, an image from the railroads. In U.S. use, “A piece of timber, cleft, hewed, or sawed, inserted in upright posts for fencing” [Webster, 1830].


“small wading bird,” mid-15c., from Old French raale (13c.), related to râler “to rattle,” of unknown origin, perhaps imitative of its cry.


“complain,” mid-15c., from Middle French railler “to tease or joke” (15c.), perhaps from Old Provençal ralhar “scoff, to chat, to joke,” from Vulgar Latin *ragulare “to bray” (cf. Italian ragghiare “to bray”), from Late Latin ragere “to roar,” probably of imitative origin. See rally (v.2). Related: Railed; railing.


“fence in with rails,” late 14c., from rail (n.1). Related: Railed; railing.

see off the rails; thin as a rail; third rail.

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