Blinken said the US had sought to provide off-ramps to the Russian leader, but “every time there's been an opportunity to” take them, “he's pressed the accelerator and continued down this horrific road that he's been pursuing.”

Recently I've been reading about Ukraine, and I see this word ALL THE TIME. I know the rough meaning but want a more clear understanding, and I find it strange the metaphorical meaning isn't in dictionaries.

  • 7
    "Off Ramp" is a slightly less formal way to say "Exit Strategy"
    – J...
    Commented Mar 10, 2022 at 12:46
  • thanks J. and nice link
    – kal
    Commented Mar 10, 2022 at 13:12

4 Answers 4


An off-ramp is a way out of a situation, as used by US politicians. A real off-ramp is in the picture on the right side. Here, it means to give Putin a way to get out of the situation he's put Ukraine in.

Here is what it is:

[off-ramp from Tucson.com] ][1]

CAPTION: As a part of the larger interchange project, the southbound Interstate 19 off ramp at Ajo Way will be closed early Friday morning.

Mike Christy / Arizona Daily Star

  • Thanks Lam. I agree.
    – kal
    Commented Mar 10, 2022 at 13:19
  • double-took when I saw that image. drive that near every day
    – neph
    Commented Mar 11, 2022 at 2:55

Off-ramps are connecting roads from an interstate road to a typically smaller road. Usually you used an off-ramp to get off the interstate. It means metaphorically that the US gave Russia a chance to change their mind about the path they were taking. They could take an off-ramp (provided by the US) from their current plan to some other plan.

Here is an example: If I was going to school but could not afford it and had to take out much debt to do it. I may want to just stop going to school and get a job. And, let's say I had a bad resume like quitting jobs early and poor references. Then I may feel forced to keep with my plan of going into debt for school. And, let's say my friend is a successful business man. He could "provide me an off-ramp" by offering a job to me that paid well despite my resume.

So Russia in the same way could see their plan as the only way, and the US could provide an alternative plan (off-ramp) that allows them (Russia) to divert from their original plan.

  • 2
    British speakers might call the both the figurative and the literal thing an 'exit'. Commented Mar 9, 2022 at 20:45
  • 3
    @MichaelHarvey Same for AmE, worth noting.
    – Eli Harold
    Commented Mar 9, 2022 at 20:46
  • 3
    Roughly speaking, in US English, the exit is the junction considered abstractly, and the off-ramp is the strip of pavement that you drive on as you are taking the exit. Sometimes people want to be clear that they are using a metaphor, and "exit" is such a general term that talk of providing an exit for Putin, while perfectly fine, lacks color. Commented Mar 10, 2022 at 3:07
  • 2
    And British speakers would say university in Eli's example - our schools are for the under-18s. Commented Mar 10, 2022 at 9:01
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    @Michael_Harvey it's always elevated in the metaphor? BTW in UK English it's an "exit slip" [road], elevated or not.
    – nigel222
    Commented Mar 10, 2022 at 9:42

This started as a comment in response to @MichaelHarvey 's comment "British speakers might call the both the figurative and the literal thing an 'exit'." posted in response to Eli Harold's answer, but I think it merits an answer of its own:

The exit is the part of the highway that goes to the offramp. The off-ramp is the part from where you're completely off the highway to where you're on a normal street. Metaphorically, an "exit" would just be a course of action through which he is no longer invading Ukraine, and there's no need for the world to give him that; he can do it on his own. Literally, an off-ramp is a stretch of road that takes drivers not merely off the highway, but on to regular street. Looking at Lambie's picture, the right car on the right is right around the part where the exit turns into the off-ramp. I would say by the time you get to the things with orange and white diagonal stripes, you're off the freeway. But just having that wouldn't be very useful, would it? If you just had that, and nothing past it, that would take you off the freeway, but you'd be stranded with no way to get anywhere.

Metaphorically, the idea of an off-ramp is not merely to get out of the immediate situation, but to get into a situation that's acceptable. Just getting Putin to stop the invasion is not realistic; we need to find a way of him leaving Ukraine and saving face, and not feeling like he's put himself in an untenable situation.

  • 5
    Side note: An 'off-ramp' is called a 'slip road' in BrE - thefreedictionary.com/slip+road Commented Mar 10, 2022 at 10:11
  • Thanks Accc. Very nuanced and you have a point. I like the point that the new situation is acceptable, though I think "exit" can imply that too.
    – kal
    Commented Mar 10, 2022 at 13:29
  • @RobinElvin Google navigation even in the UK used to say "take the ramp" to mean take the sliproad. When the sliproad was flat and the alternative was to go up a slope onto a flyover (overpass), the meaning was inverted. I got very lost.
    – Chris H
    Commented Mar 10, 2022 at 14:37
  • 1
    @Tristan As a 50yo British driver to me the term "slip-road" always includes any ramp. I had never heard the terms on- or off-ramp until recently. See this post and comment no. 1 by David Richerby - travel.stackexchange.com/questions/127394/… Commented Mar 11, 2022 at 15:13
  • 2
    I'm a few years younger than Robin (and I believe David R is a bit younger than me). While I've heard "on-/off- ramp" enough that they're familiar, they seem like complete Americanisms and I only recall hearing them in American accents or US contexts (I've used the term myself when visiting LA)
    – Chris H
    Commented Mar 11, 2022 at 15:27

To give some context, America has long had controlled-access highways in and around cities. During a family vacation, driving through an unfamiliar city in the days before cell-phone directions, it was common to be trapped on an interstate highway. Maybe you missed the correct exit, or you saw the kids' favorite restaurant off to the side. Now you're stuck going the wrong way, very fast, sometimes for miles, with no way to turn around, desperately looking for an off-ramp. It was a common American experience.

"Looking for an off-ramp" is a metaphor for that feeling of being trapped going the wrong way.

It's not all that common. "A way out of the situation" or just "a way out" is better in most cases. But the rest of the sentence "he's pressed the accelerator and continued down this horrific road" is so good that the expression works here.

  • Thanks. Very good. Didn't think of that.
    – kal
    Commented Mar 10, 2022 at 18:38

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