third rail


: a metal rail through which electric current is led to the motors of an electric vehicle (such as a subway car)
: a controversial issue usually avoided by politicians

Examples of third rail in a Sentence

Social Security is the third rail of American politics.
Recent Examples on the Web Meddling with the state’s historic tax law has long been considered akin to touching the third rail in California politics. Michael Smolens, San Diego Union-Tribune, 20 Sep. 2023 If there is no way to shield it, the MBTA will power down the 600-volt third rail during the work, officials said. John R. Ellement,, 11 Aug. 2023 The mononymous New York comedian carved out a distinctive lane for herself through grilling celebrities on third rail topics such as race, politics, and gender on Instagram Live and, later, a late night talk show on Showtime. André-Naquian Wheeler, Vogue, 27 Jan. 2023 No one was injured, but the T had to cut power to the third rail to let the crew backtrack. Laura Crimaldi,, 12 Aug. 2023 But the ultimate solution that would save lives and homes has been a political third rail: The state should simply not allow people to live in high-fire-risk areas in the first place. Curbed, 30 May 2023 Parking is one of the third rails of New York City politics, and the plan could face pushback in some communities. Emma G. Fitzsimmons, New York Times, 3 May 2023 With every announcement that has to do with gambling, the NFL exposes itself for putting greed above common sense, for so willingly hurdling what had always been the third rail of professional sports. Tara Sullivan,, 12 July 2023 And yet in the discourse over admissions equity, sports is a kind of third rail no one seems eager to touch. Town & Country, 18 Jan. 2023 See More

These examples are programmatically compiled from various online sources to illustrate current usage of the word 'third rail.' Any opinions expressed in the examples do not represent those of Merriam-Webster or its editors. Send us feedback about these examples.

Word History

First Known Use

1867, in the meaning defined at sense 1

Time Traveler
The first known use of third rail was in 1867

Dictionary Entries Near third rail

Cite this Entry

“Third rail.” Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, Accessed 4 Oct. 2023.

More from Merriam-Webster on third rail

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