The Red Pen: “Rack” vs. “Wrack”

We Need to Talk About Grammar is a weekly feature in which I complain about grammatical mistakes I encounter all too often. Feel free to commiserate below, and check out the archives here!

Thanks for helping me practice; job interviews are so nerve-racking!

Nope, sorry, WRONG. It’s nerve-wracking.

This is one that, for whatever reason, really bothers me. “Nerve-wracking” is a pretty common phrase, so you’d think that people would know how to use it, but noooo.

“To rack” means, in casual speech, to shelve or hang something up: “When he was finished listening, he racked his headphones and left the room.” It could also mean to torture using the rack, i.e. the medieval torture device. You rack your brains, as if to torture the truth from them. (This is actually something I just learned—I probably would have incorrectly used wrack.)

“To wrack,” on the other hand, means to utterly ruin or wreck, which is why wrack is the correct word to use in “nerve-wracking.”

Vol. 23 the more you know gif

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