from The American Heritage® Dictionary of the English Language, 4th Edition

  • n. A framework or stand in or on which to hold, hang, or display various articles: a trophy rack; a rack for baseball bats in the dugout; a drying rack for laundry.
  • n. Games A triangular frame for arranging billiard or pool balls at the start of a game.
  • n. A receptacle for livestock feed.
  • n. A frame for holding bombs in an aircraft.
  • n. Slang A bunk; a bed.
  • n. A toothed bar that meshes with a gearwheel, pinion, or other toothed machine part.
  • n. A state of intense anguish.
  • n. A cause of intense anguish.
  • n. An instrument of torture on which the victim's body was stretched.
  • n. A pair of antlers.
  • transitive v. To place (billiard balls, for example) in a rack.
  • transitive v. To cause great physical or mental suffering to: Pain racked his entire body. See Synonyms at afflict.
  • transitive v. To torture by means of the rack.
  • rack out Slang To go to sleep or get some sleep.
  • rack up Informal To accumulate or score: rack up points.
  • idiom on the rack Under great stress.
  • n. A fast, flashy, four-beat gait of a horse in which each foot touches the ground separately and at equal intervals.
  • intransitive v. To go or move in a rack.
  • n. A thin mass of wind-driven clouds.
  • intransitive v. To be driven by the wind; scud: low clouds racking by.
  • n. Variant of wrack1.
  • n. Variant of wrack2.
  • transitive v. To drain (wine or cider) from the dregs.
  • n. A wholesale rib cut of lamb or veal between the shoulder and the loin.
  • n. A retail rib cut of lamb or veal, prepared for roasting or for rib chops.
  • n. The neck and upper spine of mutton, pork, or veal.

from Wiktionary, Creative Commons Attribution/Share-Alike License

  • n. A series of one or more shelves, stacked one above the other
  • n. A frame on which to hang various items.
  • n. A device used to torture victims by stretching them beyond their natural limits.
  • n. A pair of antlers (as on deer, moose or elk).
  • n. A cut of meat involving several adjacent ribs
  • n. A hollow triangle used for aligning the balls at the start of a game.
  • n. A woman's breasts.
  • n. A friction device for abseiling, consisting of a frame with 5 or more metal bars, around which the rope is threaded. Also rappel rack, abseil rack.
  • n. A climber's set of equipment for setting up protection and belays, consisting of runners, slings, karabiners, nuts, Friends, etc.
  • v. To place in or hang on a rack.
  • v. To torture (someone) on the rack.
  • v. To cause (someone) to suffer pain
  • v. To put the balls into the triangular rack and set them in place on the table.
  • v. To strike a male in the groin with the knee.
  • v. To (manually) load (a round of ammunition) from the magazine or belt into firing position in an automatic or semiautomatic firearm.
  • v. stretch joints of a person
  • v. To fly, as vapour or broken clouds
  • v. To clarify, and thereby deter further fermentation of, beer, wine or cider by draining or siphoning it from the dregs.

from the GNU version of the Collaborative International Dictionary of English

  • n. Same as arrack.
  • n. The neck and spine of a fore quarter of veal or mutton.
  • n. A wreck; destruction.
  • n. Thin, flying, broken clouds, or any portion of floating vapor in the sky.
  • n. A fast amble.
  • n. An instrument or frame used for stretching, extending, retaining, or displaying, something.
  • n. An engine of torture, consisting of a large frame, upon which the body was gradually stretched until, sometimes, the joints were dislocated; -- formerly used judicially for extorting confessions from criminals or suspected persons.
  • n. An instrument for bending a bow.
  • n. A grate on which bacon is laid.
  • n. A frame or device of various construction for holding, and preventing the waste of, hay, grain, etc., supplied to beasts.
  • n. A frame on which articles are deposited for keeping or arranged for display; as, a clothes rack; a bottle rack, etc.
  • n. A piece or frame of wood, having several sheaves, through which the running rigging passes; -- called also rack block. Also, a frame to hold shot.
  • n. A frame or table on which ores are separated or washed.
  • n. A frame fitted to a wagon for carrying hay, straw, or grain on the stalk, or other bulky loads.
  • n. A distaff.
  • n. A bar with teeth on its face, or edge, to work with those of a wheel, pinion, or worm, which is to drive it or be driven by it.
  • n. That which is extorted; exaction.
  • intransitive v. To fly, as vapor or broken clouds.
  • intransitive v. To amble fast, causing a rocking or swaying motion of the body; to pace; -- said of a horse.
  • transitive v. To draw off from the lees or sediment, as wine.
  • transitive v. To extend by the application of force; to stretch or strain; specifically, to stretch on the rack or wheel; to torture by an engine which strains the limbs and pulls the joints.
  • transitive v. To torment; to torture; to affect with extreme pain or anguish.
  • transitive v. To stretch or strain, in a figurative sense; hence, to harass, or oppress by extortion.
  • transitive v. To wash on a rack, as metals or ore.
  • transitive v. To bind together, as two ropes, with cross turns of yarn, marline, etc.

from The Century Dictionary and Cyclopedia

  • To stretch; stretch out; strain by force or violence; extend by stretching or straining.
  • To strain so as to rend; wrench by strain or jar; rend; disintegrate; disjoint: as, a racking cough; to rack a ship to pieces by slanting shot.
  • To torture by violent stretching; stretch on a frame by means of a windlass; subject to the punishment of the rack. See rack, n., 2 .
  • Hence To put in torment; affect with great pain or distress; torture in anyway; disturb violently.
  • To strain with anxiety, eagerness, curiosity, or the like; subject to strenuous effort or intense feeling; worry; agitate: as, to rack one's invention or memory.
  • To stretch or draw out of normal condition or relation; strain beyond measure or propriety; wrest; warp; distort; exaggerate; overstrain: chiefly in figurative uses.
  • To exact or obtain by rapacity; get or gain in excess or wrongfully. See rack-rent.
  • To subject to extortion; practise rapacity upon; oppress by exaction.
  • In mining, to wash on the rack. See rack, n., 5 .
  • To place on or in a rack or frame made for the purpose, either for storage or for temporary need, as for draining, drying, or the like.
  • To form into or as if into a rack or grating; give the appearance of a rack to.
  • Nautical, to seize together with cross-turns, as two ropes.
  • To drive; move; go forward rapidly; stir.
  • To drive, as flying clouds.
  • A dialectal form of reck.
  • To relate; tell.
  • To move with the gait called a rack.
  • To draw off from the lees; draw off, as pure liquor from its sediment: as, to rack cider or wine; to rack off liquor.
  • To move by means of a rack and pinion.
  • n. A bar.
  • n. A frame or apparatus for stretching or straining.
  • n. An instrument of torture by means of which the limbs were pulled in different directions, so that the whole body was subjected to a great tension, suffcient sometimes to cause the bones to leave their sockets. The form of application of the torture differed at different times. The rack consisted essentially of a platform on which the body was laid, having at one end a fixed bar to which one pair of limbs was fastened, and at the other end a movable bar to which the other limbs were fastened, and which could be forcibly pulled away from the fixed bar or rolled on its own axis by means of a windlass. See judicial torture, under torture.
  • n. Punishment by the rack, or by some similar means of torture.
  • n. Hence A state of torture or extreme suffering, physical or mental; great pain; rending anxiety; anguish. See on the rack, below.
  • n. A grating or open framework of bars, wires, or pegs on or in which articles are arranged or deposited: much used in composition, as in bottle-rack, card-rack, hat-rack, letter-rack, etc.
  • n. An openwork siding, high and flaring outward, placed on a wagon for the conveyance of hay or straw, grain in the sheaf, or other light and bulky material.
  • n. In printing, an upright framework, with side-cleats or other supports, for the storing of cases, of boards or galleys of type, etc.: distinguished as case-rack galley-rack. etc.
  • n. Nautical, a fair-leader for a running rigging.
  • n. The cobiron of a grate.
  • n. A framework for a table aboard ship to hold dishes, etc., so as to keep them from sliding or falling off: same as fiddle, 2.
  • n. A frame for holding round shot in holes; a shot-rack.
  • n. In metallurgy, an inclined wooden table on which fine ore is washed on a small scale. It is one of the various simpler forms of the buddle.
  • n. In woolen-cloth manuf., a frame in a stove or room heated by steam-pipes on which the cloth is stretched tightly after washing with fullers' earth.
  • n. In organbuilding, one of the thin boards, with perforations, which support the upper part of the feet of the pipes.
  • n. In machinery, a straight or very slightly curved metallic bar, with teeth on one of its edges, adapted to work into the teeth of a wheel, pinion, or endless screw, for converting a circular into a rectilinear motion, or vice versa.
  • n. An anglers' creel or fish-basket.
  • n. A fish-weir.
  • n. A measure of lacework counting 240 meshes perpendicularly.
  • n. Reach: as, to work by rack of eye (that is. to be guided by the eye in working).
  • n. That which is extorted; exaction.
  • n. The neck and spine of a fore quarter of veal or mutton, or the neck of mutton or pork.
  • n. Thin flying broken clouds; especially, detached fragments of raggy cloud, commonly occurringwith rain-clouds.
  • n. Same as wrack: now used in the phrases to go to rack, to go to rack and ruin.
  • n. A rude narrow path, like the track of a small animal.
  • n. A rut in a road.
  • n. A gait of the horse between a trot and a gallop (or canter), in which the fore feet move as in a slow gallop, while the hind feet move as in a trot (or pace).
  • n. A distaff; a rock.
  • n. Same as arrack.
  • n. A liquor made chiefly of brandy, sugar, lemons (or other fruit), and spices.
  • n. A young rabbit. See the quotation.
  • n. A screen composed of parallel narrow strips of plank or iron, occupying a vertical or slightly inclined position and placed across a canal, flume, or mill-race, for the purpose of preventing floating objects from entering the canal or flume.
  • n. plural The sheet piling on the sides of a ferry-slip which serves as a buffer for the boats coming into the slip.
  • n. A horse all skin and bone; a rackabones; also the bones of a dead horse used for various purposes by knackers.

from WordNet 3.0 Copyright 2006 by Princeton University. All rights reserved.

  • v. stretch to the limits
  • n. an instrument of torture that stretches or disjoints or mutilates victims
  • v. go at a rack
  • n. a form of torture in which pain is inflicted by stretching the body
  • n. rib section of a forequarter of veal or pork or especially lamb or mutton
  • n. a support for displaying various articles
  • v. seize together, as of parallel ropes of a tackle in order to prevent running through the block
  • v. draw off from the lees
  • n. a rapid gait of a horse in which each foot strikes the ground separately
  • v. obtain by coercion or intimidation
  • v. fly in high wind
  • v. work on a rack
  • n. framework for holding objects
  • n. the destruction or collapse of something
  • v. torment emotionally or mentally
  • v. put on a rack and pinion
  • v. run before a gale
  • v. torture on the rack


from The American Heritage® Dictionary of the English Language, 4th Edition

Middle English rakke, probably from Middle Dutch rec, framework; see reg- in Indo-European roots.
Origin unknown.
Middle English rak, probably of Scandinavian origin; akin to Swedish rak, wreckage.
Middle English rakken, from Old Provençal arracar, from raca, stems and husks of grapes.
Probably from rack1.

from Wiktionary, Creative Commons Attribution/Share-Alike License

See Dutch rekken

from Wiktionary, Creative Commons Attribution/Share-Alike License

Old English reċċan ("to stretch out, extend")

from Wiktionary, Creative Commons Attribution/Share-Alike License

Probably from Old Norse reka ("to be drifted, tost")

from Wiktionary, Creative Commons Attribution/Share-Alike License

Middle English rakken



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  • Heavens! The OED lists twelve different nouns and seven verbs, and add to the pot three nouns and four verbs 'wrack', and who knows how many instances that began life as 'rake' or 'reck', and no wonder we're confused. Ignoring obsolete and spurious senses, and ones I plain haven't heard of, we have:

    n. (2) a moving mass of cloud;

    (3) a stretching frame for cloth, and thus for torture;

    (4) a vertical framework for holding things (fodder, hats, guns, clothes, cards, etc. etc.); and thus a bar engaging with a pinion; thus also the bosoms;

    (7) a joint of meat; a bony horse;

    (9) wreckage, ruin;

    v. (1) stretch; tear apart; torment; cudgel (one's brains); charge (rent) excessively;

    (3) rack n. (6)'>from a kind of horse's gait, rack n. (6) rack along "rattle along", rack off "piss off";

    (4) put in a rack n. (4); esp. of pool balls; rack up "accumulate".

    In answer to the question I was asking myself that led to this research: yes, rack and ruin should really be wrack and ruin, sense n. (9) being originally 'wrack'.

    March 19, 2009

  • Citation on scud.

    July 25, 2008