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Off his/her rails, wrapped around the axle, jovial, hooker

Created date

November 7th, 2016

Off his/her rails

When we say that someone has gone “off his rails,” we mean that he’s lost control or, perhaps even, gone crazy. 

This idiom comes from railroading. 

A properly working train under the control of a competent engineer will stay on the tracks. If it were to derail for whatever reason, then something went dreadfully wrong; the same applies to a person that is “off his/her rails.”

Other vaguely similar idioms likewise use railroad imagery, including “one-track mind” and “on the right track.”

“Clearly he’s not rational. The guy is off his rails.”

Wrapped around the axle

If you’ve reached the proverbial point of being “wrapped around the axle,” you’re in a bad way. The phrase is a figurative reference to a person who’s hopelessly caught in a snag.  

Visualize, if you will, a low-riding car or similar vehicle with axles. If it passes over something like a large coil of wire, the said obstruction could become tangled. 

Once the wire wraps itself thickly enough, it’ll hamper both the rotation of the axles and the forward motion of the vehicle. The same thing happens to a person who’s hung up on a problem or situation.

“When my father tries to troubleshoot his computer, he always ends up getting wrapped around the axle.”

Jovial

This one comes from the Ancient Romans, whose name for Jupiter was “Jove.” They believed that, if you had Jupiter in your horoscope, your future was bright. 

Understandably, those fortunate enough to possess so favorable a cosmic alignment would be quite happy—you might even say “jovial.” 

“People are generally jovial around Christmas.”

Hooker

We all know what this term means (or more precisely, to whom it refers), but where did it come from? One possibility is the Civil War.

Gen. Joseph Hooker was among President Lincoln’s more inept commanders. For a short time, he headed the Union’s Army of the Potomac—again, for a short time. 

It wasn’t long before his poor performance attracted attention. 

A big problem was his seeming disregard for discipline. As U.S. Congressman and Lincoln’s minister to Great Britain, Charles Frances Adams (the grandson of founding father John Adams), once remarked, Hooker’s headquarters was “a combination of barroom and brothel.”

In other words, the wayward general wasn’t averse to the presence of “soiled doves” or “ladies of the night,” better known as prostitutes. And in time, his name grew synonymous with the profession.

A second possibility is that “hooker” is a metaphorical reference to the act of prostitution; that is, “hooking” in customers from off the street.

“Throughout history, prostitutes have labored under a variety of degrading labels, including ‘soiled doves,’ ‘women of ill repute,’ ‘ladies of the night,’ and, of course, ‘hookers.’”

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