Going to rack and ruin

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Going to rack and ruin is phrase that dates back to the latter 1500s. We will look at the meaning of the term going to rack and ruin, where it came from, an alternative spelling and some examples of its use in sentences.

Going to rack and ruin is a phrase that means to deteriorate, to fall into disrepair, to become dilapidated. Related phrases are go to rack and ruin, goes to rack and ruin, went to rack and ruin. The word rack in this case is a derivation of the word wrack, an archaic word that means wreck. This makes the term rack and ruin a tautology, which is a phrase or idiom in which the same idea is expressed twice using different words, such as the idiom jot or tittle. Though the word wrack is no longer in use to mean wreck, it survives as an alternate spelling for this phrase as in going to wrack and ruin. For this reason, wrack may be considered a fossil word. However, there are some who trace the word wrack in the phrase going to wrack and ruin to the Old English word wrecan, which is the antecedent to the word wreak and meant damage or severe injury.


Cr Tully said that the houses that remained in rack and ruin were generally owned by those who were not insured and hadn’t been able to afford to restore them. (The Sunshine Coast Daily)

A man who contacted the Telegraph anonymously said: “I was walking my dog and was appalled to find the lovely spot at the timber ponds in rack and ruin.” (The Greenock Telegraph)

That’s the only way to keep the Heath from going to wrack and ruin — and to keep it looking “just as it is now,” as though nothing had been done. (The New York Times)