Printable Version
Pronunciation: ræk Hear it!

Part of Speech: Noun, verb

Meaning: 1. Wreckage, especially of a ship. 2. Ruin, destruction. 3. Hostile revenge, vengeance, persecution. 4.Seaweed. 5. Detritus brought to shore in the tides as 'the wrack line'.

Notes: Have you ever wondered about the phrases 'wrack and ruin' and 'rack my brain'? Wrack is so often confused with rack that some dictionaries now list them as synonyms. Wrack is a synonym of wreak, while rack is what we call the old stretching torture machine. This phrase implies squeezing your brain hard to get something out. Wracker refers to someone who brings wrack and ruin to others, and wrackful is the adjective.

In Play: Today's Good Word is closely associated with destruction: "Earth is a planet, as Copernicus said, wracked by wars, pestilence, famine, and unhappiness, that falls far short of perfection." It may refer to things closer to home: "Harvey Wallbanger's body was wracked by years of drinking, smoking, and chasing everything with long hair and a short skirt." The wrack line is the area where kelp, and other debris are deposited at high tide: "I found my share of baubles in the seaweed along the wrack line."

Word History: Middle English probably borrowed today's Good Word from Middle Dutch wrak "wreak", referring primarily to shipwrecks. Dutch got its word from Proto-Germanic wrakaz, a makeover of PIE wreg-/wrog- "to push, shove, drive", probably via an unrecorded ancestor which meant "(that) which was pushed ashore". Wreg- came directly to Old English as wræc "misery, punishment", went on to become wreak in Modern English. It emerged in Norwegian as reke "to drive", in Lithuanian as vargas "misery, trouble", in Latvian as vãrgs "puny, stunted, infirm", in Russian as vrag "enemy", and in Czech and Slovak as vrah "murderer". It ended up in Latin as urgere "to press, push", which English borrowed as urge. (Now a bow to Barbara Beeton for recommending today's Good Word, so often confused with its homophone as to become is synonym.)

Dr. Goodword,

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