While fighting “writer’s block” and racking my brain trying to come up with a topic for this month’s column, I realized that I was not sure if the expression should be “wracking” my brain or “racking” my brain.
Not one to waste an opportunity to expand my knowledge of the English language, I began a search for the origin of the phrase. Much to my surprise, the term is “racking” not “wracking” my brain.
Internet sources such as DailyWritingTips, and Grammarist explain that 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 one common phrase in which wrack undoubtedly makes more sense is “wrack and ruin,” which is just an emphatic, somewhat archaic-sounding way of saying “wreckage or ruin” or, in other words, “great destruction.”
After gaining that bit of knowledge, I still had no topic for this month’s column, so I decided that instead of racking my brain to the point that it lay in wrack and ruin, I would provide you with the background I have described above and simply rerun the column I wrote three years ago for the February, 2013 issue when I was also experiencing a tremendous case of writer’s block.
After all, in The Last Night of the Earth Poems, Charles Bukowski wrote, “Writing about a writer’s block is better than not writing at all.”