Wrack (meanings)

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You may want to see AWE's page distinguishing between the spellings rack and wrack.

  • In the old English origin, wrack (or wræc, from the root of wreak) meant 'vengeance', or 'retribution'.
    • This became generalized to damage or injury, etc. caused by force or violence. This was further generalized to disastrous changes in fortune or condition, or an association, or indeed synonymous relationship with, wreck.
      • This meaning gives rise to the phrase '[to go to] wrack and ruin', in which the spelling wrack is to be preferred over rack (and ruin). Wrack has been used for saucgh changes, for their causes and for their consequences. (This may be seen powerfully in the Songes & Sonettes published by the Earl of Surrey et al. in 1557, cited in OED: "
The golden apple that the Troyan boy
Gaue to Uenus the fayrest of the thre
Which was the cause of all the wrack of Troy."
  • A second wrack is cognate with wreck in various senses: 'wrecked ship', 'shipwreck', 'detritus from shipwreck pilked up on shore'; marine vegetation [and other rubbish] washed up and piled on shore', etc.
    • This last is the origin of the names of various seaweeds that are piled up, usually at or aboce the high water line,m after on-shore winds, such as bladderwrack (Fucus vesiculosus), Channelled wrack (Pelvetia canaliculata), Knotted wrack (Ascophyllum nodosum, Spiral wrack (Fucus spiralis) and Toothed wrack (Fucus serratus). This was often collected in the past, for manure for fields, or, after burning, for collection of chemicals such as iodine, or as raw material for glass, soap and other products.
  • There was also an adjective meaning 'worthless', or, of people, 'evil' or 'base'; and of goods 'damaged' or 'imperfect'. This could be used substantively, as 'rubbish', 'dross' or 'dregs'.