There was the following sentence in New York Times (December 12) article, titled “Govern in poetry”:

This guy can write and he can speak, but he’s put those talents in a drawer for much of his presidency. In just the last few weeks, though, Obama has shown that his lyrical gifts could still get him off a road leading to yet another mediocre presidency.

Strangely enough neither Cambridge nor Oxford English Dictionary carries “get sb. sth off a road” as an idiom, while GoogleNGram shows that the usage of “get off the road” emerged around 1900, tailed off during 1930 through early 1980, picked up again around 1986 (still low at 0.000000019% emergence level in 2009).

Urban Dictionary defines “get off the road” as:

this phrase is widely used among many of the "nerd" factions, mostly used in conjunction with the popular theatrical line from the movie: Fellowship of the Ring. Getting off the road implies removing oneself from harms (I think this should be “harmful”) way.

Now my question: Is “get sb, sth off the road” accepted as an idiom, or is it just a ‘theatrical term’ meaning removing oneself as Urban Dictionary defines?

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    No, it's not really an "idiom". I'm sure if you check you'll find that virtually none of the instances you find in NGrams are for this metaphorical sense. Your writer is probably primarily influenced by the well-known saying The road to hell is paved with good intentions. He's not trying to imply Obama is actually in any "danger" if he stays on his current course - he's just making the (barbed, subsidiary) point that if Obama doesn't change course his second term will be just as mediocre as the first. Dec 13, 2013 at 2:50
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    [Obama has shown] that his [lyrical gifts] could still [get him] [off a road] [leading to yet another mediocre presidency]. Take help in parsing, it's easy to get things wrong this way.
    – Kris
    Dec 13, 2013 at 5:55
  • This question appears to be off-topic because it is due to incorrect parsing.
    – Kris
    Dec 13, 2013 at 5:56
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    @Kris. I know you’re a dedicated and zealous reader of my posts. You never miss them. But your comment of my question being ‘off-topic because it is due to incorrect parsing’ is off the mark. I didn’t give any parsing of my own on ‘get off the road.” I simply asked whether this is an accepted idiom, and if definition of Urban Dictionary is right or not. Dec 13, 2013 at 8:12
  • Whether what was an 'accepted idiom'? You meant 'get off the road,' right? That was incorrect parsing by you. You should have parsed it as I have shown in the earlier comment. meta: No, lol, I am not anyone's 'dedicated & zealous reader of posts'. I once clarified to you that I don't care to see the poster's name -- I comment on the post, not the poster. Nothing personal whatsoever. If some of my comments were at your posts, that was 1. incidental. 2. your posts were typical.
    – Kris
    Dec 13, 2013 at 12:03

1 Answer 1


The idiomatic expression here is really "on the road to (X)", meaning that your current actions will lead you to achieve X, whatever that is. (Common variations are "on the road to recovery" or "on the road to ruin".) (see a definition here.)

In the writer's estimation, Obama is "on the road to a mediocre presidency"; that is, Obama has accomplished nothing impressive compared to other presidents and, if nothing changes, his term as president will not be noteworthy in any positive respect.

However, putting his speaking ability to greater use could (supposedly) get him off of that road and onto a better path where he would be more successful, viewed more positively by historians, etc.

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