Writing for Business - A Whatis.com Blog

Jul 17 2012   2:21PM GMT

The difference between racking your brain and wracking your brain

Ivy Wigmore Ivy Wigmore Profile: Ivy Wigmore

typing Which is correct?
I’ve been ______ my brain but I cannot figure out how to get this script  to run. Can you have a look at it?
a. wracking
b. racking

Answer: b.

Explanation:
Full disclosure: I thought “wrack” was the correct word until I started looking into this one. Apparently it’s not.

Racking something, in this context, means putting it on a rack. In this case, the reference is to the rack used for torture — you’re torturing your brain to try to find an answer.

Maeve Maddox, on Daily Writing Tips, has a very interesting post about “wracking” vs. “racking.” Here’s an excerpt:

“The word rack has numerous meanings, both as a noun and as a verb. As a noun it originated from a word for “framework” which was probably related to a verb meaning “to stretch out.” The original framework was no doubt used for some innocent occupation such as stretching leather. Later on some evil so-and-so adapted that kind of rack for the purpose of torturing human beings by stretching their limbs.

It is from the torture rack that we get the expression “to rack one’s brains.”

The word wrack, with its identical pronunciation, is related to Old English wraec “misery” and wrecan “to punish.” In the fourteenth century wrack took on the meaning “wrecked ship.” In time it came to mean “seaweed” or anything cast up upon the shore. The expression “to go to wrack and ruin” means to fall into a state of decay or destruction.”

Follow me on Twitter @tao_of_grammar

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