racked his brains to try to

jesusguime

Banned
Chinese
Every member of the team racked his brains to try to come up with a solution to the problem.


Hi,

Does the above sound right? Is it a must to rewrite the bolded part in the above as "racked his brains trying to ...?" Thanks.
 
  • baker589

    Senior Member
    English - England
    I would say ...racked their brains trying to... unless you have specifically said that the team is entirely male.
     

    pismo

    Senior Member
    English -- USA
    "Racked their brains," while common in speech, is grammatically incorrect, because "every member" is singular.

    However, "All the members of the team racked their brains to try to come up with a solution to the problem," would be correct.
     

    Nunty

    Senior Member
    Hebrew-US English (bilingual)
    Moderator note:

    Let's try to stay on track here. The topic of this thread is "racked his brains to try to". Anyone who is interested in gender neutral pronouns is welcome to read some of the existing threads on that topic and add to them if he has you have they have a question.

    Thank you.
    Nun-Translator
     
    Last edited:

    El escoces

    Senior Member
    English - UK
    Either version would do, but there is no need to change what you have written.
    I'm not as sure as Gordon about the appropriateness of the suggested alternative.

    Why did they rack their brains? To try to come up with a solution.

    But:

    How did they rack their brains? Trying to come up with a solution.

    It seems to me one racks one's brain for a reason (the first example) rather than by doing something.

    Maybe I'm simply imagining a distinction.
     

    Thomas Tompion

    Senior Member
    English - England
    I've suddenly remembered that the first (?) gravedigger in Act 5, scene 1 of Hamlet says 'Cudgel thy brains no more about it'. I wonder if Shakespeare was playing with the idiom.
     

    Redshade

    Banned
    UK
    English.
    I always thought that it was a mis-spelling/variation of wrack which itself is a variation of wreck.
    So "wracked/wrecked his brains".

    Looking it up I see that we have a House divided on the
    exact derivation.
     

    Thomas Tompion

    Senior Member
    English - England
    I've looked up 'wrack and ruin' and I've tried to find the origin of rack one's brains, and all that I could find seemed to agree with the derivation I suggested in post 8. I was amused to find also 'cudgel thy wit' dating from early in Elizabeth I's reign, so Shakespeare's gravedigger wasn't making it up, or playing with any idiom.

    I can't find any other suggestion, though if it's spelled wrack, I suppose it's that one wrecks one's brains by thinking. I'm no expert on such things, but that seems far less likely, particularly as one near variant of the expression is cudgel. If that really is the other suggestion, does it have support from any authoritative source?
     

    kalamazoo

    Senior Member
    US, English
    I would say "I was racking my brain" or "he was racking his brain" not "brains" in the plural. So in the initial sentence, each member of the team was racking his brain. (I do realize "brains" can be in the plural sometimes, as in "blow your brains out" but more often each of us is just considered to have one brain.)
     

    Starfrown

    Senior Member
    English - US
    I've only ever seen it spelled "rack".
    Same. Maybe it used to be spelled 'wrack', but now it is definitely 'rack'.
    I have indeed seen "wrack" used instead of "rack" before. Merriam-Webster's notes that it has been used since about 1555 in the sense of "rack" being discussed here.

    That said, I'm not exactly sure whether it would be considered entirely correct. See here.
     

    El escoces

    Senior Member
    English - UK
    What I intended to convey was that I have only ever seen "racking one's brain", not that I was unaware of a word spelled "wrack" which has a different meaning.

    Notwithstanding the M-W note referred to by Starfrown, I remain sceptical that "wrack", in the sense of the OP, is anything other than an archaic spelling.
     

    Redshade

    Banned
    UK
    English.
    "What I intended to convey was that I have only ever seen "racking one's brain", not that I was unaware of a word spelled "wrack" which has a different meaning.

    Notwithstanding the M-W note referred to by Starfrown, I remain sceptical that "wrack", in the sense of the OP, is anything other than an archaic spelling."

    Hi.
    "Wrack has a different meaning". Totally disagree.

    I am not computer savvy enough to know how to get the "links"
    function that others appear to be able to conjure up at will, but look up the word "wrack" at any number of dictionaries online ( or otherwise ) and see that it means "wreck".

    If something is in "wrack and ruin " it has been wrecked and ruined.
    As I mentioned in my original post there is some controvery about the "wreck ones brains" as in "destroy..." option as opposed to the theory that it means to "stretch ones brains " as an allusion to the "torture rack" but the former seems much more likely to me.
     
    Last edited:

    El escoces

    Senior Member
    English - UK
    The expression is "racked his brain(s)".

    I don't consider that has anything to do with "wrack and ruin" (other than the possible coincidence of meanings in the word "wreck").

    Further discussion about derivation would no doubt be ruled off-topic. The OP is about whether one racks one's brain to try to do something, or trying to do something.
     
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