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  1. wreck or wreckage.
  2. damage or destruction: wrack and ruin.
  3. a trace of something destroyed: leaving not a wrack behind.
  4. seaweed or other vegetation cast on the shore.
verb (used with object)
  1. to wreck: He wracked his car up on the river road.

Origin of wrack1

before 900; Middle English wrak (noun), Old English wræc vengeance, misery, akin to wracu vengeance, misery, wrecan to wreak
Can be confusedrack wrack wreak wreckracked wracked wreaked wrecked


noun, verb (used without object)
  1. rack4.


or wrack

  1. Also called cloud rack. a group of drifting clouds.
verb (used without object)
  1. to drive or move, especially before the wind.

Origin of rack4

1350–1400; Middle English rak, reck(e); origin uncertain
Dictionary.com Unabridged Based on the Random House Unabridged Dictionary, © Random House, Inc. 2018

Examples from the Web for wracking

Contemporary Examples

Historical Examples

  • She had evidently spent a sleepless and wracking eight hours.


    Edward Elmer Smith

  • She sobbed, but the tears were gone now and they were dry, wracking sobs.

    Ten From Infinity

    Paul W. Fairman

  • The wracking convulsions which shook Temple's body subsided.

    Voyage To Eternity

    Milton Lesser

  • I have been thinking, thinking, thinking; wracking my brain.

    The Beasts in the Void

    Paul W. Fairman

  • I have been wracking my brains in vain to remember what exactly DID happen yesterday.

    The Return

    Walter de la Mare

British Dictionary definitions for wracking


  1. a framework for holding, carrying, or displaying a specific load or objecta plate rack; a hat rack; a hay rack; a luggage rack
  2. a toothed bar designed to engage a pinion to form a mechanism that will interconvert rotary and rectilinear motions
  3. a framework fixed to an aircraft for carrying bombs, rockets, etc
  4. the rack an instrument of torture that stretched the body of the victim
  5. a cause or state of mental or bodily stress, suffering, etc; anguish; torment (esp in the phrase on the rack)
  6. slang, mainly US a woman's breasts
  7. US and Canadian (in pool, snooker, etc)
    1. the triangular frame used to arrange the balls for the opening shot
    2. the balls so groupedBrit equivalent: frame
verb (tr)
  1. to torture on the rack
  2. Also: wrack to cause great stress or suffering toguilt racked his conscience
  3. Also: wrack to strain or shake (something) violently, as by great physical forcethe storm racked the town
  4. to place or arrange in or on a rackto rack bottles of wine
  5. to move (parts of machinery or a mechanism) using a toothed rack
  6. to raise (rents) exorbitantly; rack-rent
  7. rack one's brains to strain in mental effort, esp to remember something or to find the solution to a problem
See also rack up
Derived Formsracker, noun

Word Origin

C14 rekke, probably from Middle Dutch rec framework; related to Old High German recchen to stretch, Old Norse rekja to spread out



  1. destruction; wreck (obsolete except in the phrase go to rack and ruin)

Word Origin

C16: variant of wrack 1


  1. another word for single-foot, a gait of the horse

Word Origin

C16: perhaps based on rock ²


  1. a group of broken clouds moving in the wind
  1. (intr) (of clouds) to be blown along by the wind

Word Origin

Old English wrǣc what is driven; related to Gothic wraks persecutor, Swedish vrak wreckage


verb (tr)
  1. to clear (wine, beer, etc) as by siphoning it off from the dregs
  2. to fill a container with (beer, wine, etc)

Word Origin

C15: from Old Provençal arraca, from raca dregs of grapes after pressing


  1. the neck or rib section of mutton, pork, or veal

Word Origin

Old English hrace; related to Old High German rahho, Danish harke, Swedish harkla to clear one's throat



  1. collapse or destruction (esp in the phrase wrack and ruin)
  2. something destroyed or a remnant of such
  1. a variant spelling of rack 1

Word Origin

Old English wræc persecution, misery; related to Gothic wraka, Old Norse rāk. Compare wreck, wretch


The use of the spelling wrack rather than rack in sentences such as she was wracked by grief or the country was wracked by civil war is very common but is thought by many people to be incorrect


  1. seaweed or other marine vegetation that is floating in the sea or has been cast ashore
  2. any of various seaweeds of the genus Fucus, such as F. serratus (serrated wrack)
  3. literary, or dialect
    1. a wreck or piece of wreckage
    2. a remnant or fragment of something destroyed

Word Origin

C14 (in the sense: a wrecked ship, wreckage, hence later applied to marine vegetation washed ashore): perhaps from Middle Dutch wrak wreckage; the term corresponds to Old English wræc wrack 1
Collins English Dictionary - Complete & Unabridged 2012 Digital Edition © William Collins Sons & Co. Ltd. 1979, 1986 © HarperCollins Publishers 1998, 2000, 2003, 2005, 2006, 2007, 2009, 2012

Word Origin and History for wracking



late 14c., "wrecked ship," probably from Middle Dutch wrak "wreck," cognate with Old English wræc "misery, punishment," and wrecan "to punish, drive out" (see wreak). The meaning "damage, disaster, destruction" (in wrack and ruin) is from c.1400, from the Old English word. Sense of "seaweed, etc., cast up on shore" is recorded from 1510s.



"frame with bars," c.1300, possibly from Middle Dutch rec "framework," literally "something stretched out, related to recken (modern rekken) "stretch out," cognate with Old English reccan "to stretch out," from Proto-Germanic *rak- (cf. Old Saxon rekkian, Old Frisian reza, Old Norse rekja, Old High German recchen, German recken, Gothic uf-rakjan "to stretch out"), from PIE *rog-, from root *reg- "to move in a straight line" (see regal).

Meaning "instrument of torture" first recorded early 15c., perhaps from German rackbank, originally an implement for stretching leather, etc. Mechanical meaning "toothed bar" is from 1797 (see pinion). Meaning "set of antlers" is first attested 1945, American English; hence slang sense of "a woman's breasts" (especially if large), by 1991. Meaning "framework for displaying clothes" is from 1948; hence off the rack (1951) of clothing, as opposed to tailored.



type of gait of a horse, 1580s, from rack (v.) "move with a fast, lively gait" 1520s in this sense (implied in racking), of unknown origin; perhaps from French racquassure "racking of a horse in his pace," itself of unknown origin. Or perhaps a variant of rock (v.1).



"clouds driven before the wind," c.1300, also "rush of wind, collision, crash," originally a northern word, possibly from Old English racu "cloud" (or an unrecorded Scandinavian cognate of it), reinforced by Old Norse rek "wreckage, jetsam," or by influence of Old English wræc "something driven;" from Proto-Germanic *wrakaz, from PIE root *wreg- "to push, shove" (see wreak-). Often confused with wrack (n.), especially in phrase rack and ruin (1590s). The distinction is that rack is "driven clouds;" wrack is "seaweed cast up on shore."



"to stretch out for drying," also "to torture on the rack," early 15c., from rack (n.1). Of other pains from 1580s. Figurative sense of "to torment" is from c.1600. Meaning "raise above a fair level" (of rent, etc.) is from 1550s. Meaning "fit with racks" is from 1580s. Teenager slang meaning "to sleep" is from 1960s (rack (n.) was Navy slang for "bed" in 1940s). Related: Racked; racking. Rack up "register, accumulate, achieve" is first attested 1943 (in "Billboard"), probably from method of keeping score in pool halls.



"to ruin or wreck" (originally of ships), 1560s, from earlier intransitive sense "to be shipwrecked" (late 15c.), from wrack (n.). Often confused in this sense since 16c. with rack (v.) in the sense of "torture on the rack;" to wrack one's brains is thus erroneous. Related: Wracked; wracking.



"cut of animal meat and bones," 1560s, of unknown origin; perhaps from some resemblance to rack (n.1). Cf. rack-bone "vertebrae" (1610s).

Online Etymology Dictionary, © 2010 Douglas Harper

Idioms and Phrases with wracking


In addition to the idioms beginning with rack

also see:


see under rack.

The American Heritage® Idioms Dictionary Copyright © 2002, 2001, 1995 by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company. Published by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company.