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Why do we say 'Rack your Brains'?

Average: 3.9 (13 votes)

Meaning: To think very hard to find an answer.

If you rack your brains, you strain mentally to recall or to understand something. The rack was a mediaeval torture device where the victim was tied to the rack by his arms and legs, which were then practically torn from their bodies. It’s not surprising, therefore, that ‘rack’ soon became a verb meaning ‘to cause pain’. The word was used whenever something or someone was under particular stress, and a huge variety of things were said to be ‘racked’. The first recorded use of this being specifically applied to brains is in William Beveridge's Sermons, circa 1680: "They rack their brains... they hazard their lives for it."

 

'I racked my brains for ages trying to remember her name.'

 

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