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Off the rack

Published 8 months ago • 1 min read

Rack is a word with many definitions. By lexicographer Bryan A. Garner's count, it has nine meanings as a noun and seven as a verb. And while a rack might end up everywhere from your closet to your dinner plate, it is also an instrument of torture 😬

Thus, as a verb, "rack" can mean to torture or stretch, which leads us to two common phrases and another noun and verb with overlapping meanings: wrack. The phrases nerve-racking and rack your brain are often written as "nerve-wracking" and "wrack your brain." The confusion is understandable, given that "rack" and "wrack" are sometimes used interchangeably. But usage manuals are pretty united on the phrases "nerve-racking" and "rack your brain": Don't use the "w."

You'll find more varied advice on how to use "wrack" on its own. Like "rack," it has quite a few meanings, including both "destruction" and "seaweed." And fun fact: Those definitions aren't as far apart as they might seem, as "wrack" evolved from a word meaning "shipwreck."

Speaking of "wreck," we'll cover that word in next week's newsletter when we discuss another commonly misused phrase. Can you guess what it is?

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