Rack vs. Wrack

a very old wrecked ship sitting on sand

The shipwreck wracked the vessel.

What’s the difference between rack and wrack? Let’s take a look at their definitions, how to use them in popular phrases, and a mnemonic device to help you remember which is which.

Rack as a verb means “to torture or cause great suffering.”
Example: Her anxiety racked her mind.

Have you ever heard of the medieval torture device called the rack? It was a wooden frame with a crank attached to it. When a person was placed on the rack, the torturer would crank the device, stretching the person’s limbs until they dislocated them. Sounds like fun times.

Anyway, that’s where we get this usage of rack. And when we use it, we signify torturing, especially stretching.

Wrack as a verb means “to wreck or ruin something.”
Example: They sat back as they watched pollution wrack their planet.

Wrack comes from a word meaning “to be shipwrecked.” Both of these words have pretty gloomy origins, don’t they?

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Now let’s go over a couple common phrases using one of these words.

Rack your brain
When you rack your brain, you are thinking really hard, stretching your brain’s capabilities. This idea of stretching is why we use rack instead of wrack.

Example: I really racked my brain studying for my chemistry final.

Nerve-racking
Something that is nerve-racking tortures your nerves. This idea of torturing is why we use rack instead of wrack.

Example: I found studying for my chemistry final nerve-racking.

Similar meanings
It’s true that rack and wrack have very similar uses. This is why some dictionaries, such as Merriam-Webster, are advocating for using the words interchangeably and treating them as spelling variants.

Mnemonic device
To remember the difference between rack and wrack think: wrack = wreck. They are only one letter off.

Erin Servais is the founder of Dot and Dash, LLC, an author-services company focusing on women writers and offering a range of editing, coaching, and social media packages.

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Portmanteau: Definition + Examples

Scrabble tiles with the word "portmanteaus" overtop them

Portmanteaus are words that blend two or more words together.

A portmanteau is when two or more words blend together to make a new word. Often, this new word fills a void in the lexicon. For example, people needed a name for the pollution that clings to city skies. So they came up with smog, which is a mashup of smoke and fog.

Spork is another neat one. Is there really a better term to describe that combo spoon and fork found in school cafeterias across the nation?

In both smog and spork, the two words used to form the portmanteau help describe the new word, which is a quality of portmanteaus.

Also, most of us are familiar with these terms and may recognize that they are portmanteaus, perhaps because they are newer to our vocabulary. However, there are many older words that we may not recognize are indeed portmanteaus. A few of my favorites are bash (bang + smash), flounder (flounce + blunder), and meld (melt + weld).

 

List of portmanteaus
Here’s a list of portmanteaus. Some are pretty funny (glob); some are more well known (motel); and some are so rooted in our language that many may not be aware they even are portmanteaus (pixel). Enjoy!

portmanteau combination of
advertorial advertisement + editorial
alphanumeric alphabetic + numeric
bash bang + smash
bionic biology + electronic
biopic biographical + picture
blog web + log
bodacious bold + audacious
breathalyzer breath + analyzer
carjack car + hijack
Chunnel channel + tunnel
cyborg cybernetic + organism
dumbfound dumb + confound
emoticon emotion + icon
flounder flounce + blunder
genome gene + chromosome
glitz glamour + ritz
glob gob + blob
guesstimate guess + estimate
hazmat hazard + material
intercom internal + communication
internet international + network
malware malicious + software
meld melt + weld
modem modulator + demodulator
motel motor + hotel
motorcade motor + cavalcade
newscast news + broadcast
paratrooper parachute + trooper
pixel picture + element
prissy prim + sissy
pulsar pulsating + star
quasar quasistellar + radio
simulcasting simultaneous + broadcasting
sitcom situation + comedy
skort skirt + short
smog smoke + fog
spork spoon + fork
telethon telephone + marathon
transponder transmitter + responder
wifi wireless + fidelity

Make your own portmanteaus
In my research, I discovered a super cool website, called Portmanteaur, where you can create your own portmanteaus. Simply enter a couple words into the text box and—voila—a list of portmanteaus of your words appear. (It’s magic.)

Let me know what portmanteaus you make in the comments.

This post was written by Erin Servais of Dot and Dash, an author-services company focusing on women authors.

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What Is a Modal Verb?

The words "modal verbs" at the top. Then below are the following words set in white circles against a pink background: may, should, will, must, can, would, might.

These are examples of modal verbs.

Modal verbs are verbs used to express ability, obligation, permission, or possibility. Common modal verbs include can, might, may, must, will, would, and should. They are a type of auxiliary verb (otherwise known as a “helping verb”), which means they have to be paired with a main verb to work. For example, in the sentence “I can park the car here,” park is the main verb and can is the modal verb paired with it. Here are some examples of modal verbs in action:

  • Can can mean either to express ability or to ask permission.
    • I can go to the store later.
    • Can I use the car today?
  • May can mean either to express possibility or to ask permission.
    • I may talk to him tomorrow.
    • May I go to the bathroom?
  • Must can mean either to express obligation or to express strong belief.
    • She must tell the truth.
    • He must be almost finished with the project by now.
  • Should means to give advice.
    • He should buy the red sweater.
  • Would means to request or offer, and it can also be used in if sentences.
    • Would you mind getting the door for me?
    • If I were her, I would.
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Modal verbs don’t change their form, and they have no infinitive (the verb with the word “to” in front of it, as in to sleep or to walk) or participle (a form of a verb similar to an adjective or adverb that functions as an adjective, as in swimming or sitting).

Maud Grauer is an editor and content creator for Dot and Dash, LLC.  

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Peek, Peak, and Pique

image of a keyhole and the word

Peek through a keyhole; peak of a mountain; pique someone’s interest;

The words peek, peak, and pique often get confused. It’s easy to see why. For one, they’re homonyms, which means they sound alike but have different meanings. They also all can be both nouns and verbs.

To help you remember the differences between peek, peak, and pique, let’s look at their definitions and some examples. Then you can test your understanding with a quiz at the end of the post.

peek (noun) means a glance
Example: One peek at the gift table and Virginia knew which one was from her grandma.

peek (verb) means 1) to glance at something; or 2) to look out through a hiding place (such as a crack).
Examples: Virginia peeked quickly at the papers on her rival’s desk.
I discovered Virginia peeking through the crack of the door.

peak (noun) means 1) the point at the top of a hill or mountain; or 2) the highest level
Examples: It took Virginia four days to climb to the peak of the mountain.
Virginia thought her vacation had reached its peak, but then she saw a mountain lion do the foxtrot.

peak (verb) means to reach a maximum (of capacity, value, or activity)
Example: Virginia felt her life peaked when she won her eighth-grade spelling bee.

 

 

pique (noun) means resentment, a wound of pride
Example: Virginia felt pique when her best friend got a better grade than her.

pique (verb) means to excite in interest or curiosity
Example: When Virginia’s friend brought up the subject of physics, her interest piqued.

Quiz
Test your skills with this quiz. Fill in the blank with either peek, peak, or pique.

  1. Virginia reached the _______ of her high school career when she beat her math teacher at chess.
  2. Virginia had a _______ at the test before it was time to start.
  3.  “Let me _______ your curiosity,” Virgnia said as she pulled a magic box from her purse.
  4.  Virginia painted the _______ of the mountain for her art class.
  5.  Virginia _______ed, in terms of accomplishments, when she won the first prize in debate class.
  6. Virginia’s _______ was in full force when she saw her friend take the stage after her.
  7. Virginia hid behind a big rock, and then she _______ed around it.
  8. From her _______ing, Virginia knew the secret her brother hid in his closet.

1. peak (noun) 2. peek (noun) 3. pique (verb) 4. peak (noun) 5. peak (verb) 6. pique (noun) 7. peek (verb) 8. peek (noun)

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Bald-Faced, Bold-Faced, or Barefaced Lie?

Woman's mouth and the text: Lies! Lies! Lies!

What do you call a major lie, one told with total disregard for anyone who might be affected by it? You’ve got a few options. You could call it a barefaced lie, a bald-faced lie, or a bold-faced lie. All of these are technically correct and mean basically the same thing, but bald-faced is, according to Merriam-Webster, “the preferred term in published, edited text.”

Barefaced has been used to describe lies and liars since the 19th century. Bald-faced, meanwhile, emerged in the mid-20th century. Both terms mean an open, unconcealed lie told with no concern for the truth and with an additional implication of rudeness.

The term bold-faced has been around since the 16th century, but it started to be used in this context around the end of the 20th century. It’s possible that the emergence of bold-faced as a modifier for lies and liars corresponds to the increase in the use of bold-faced text during this period.

Barefaced, bald-faced, and bold-faced are all grammatically correct ways to describe lies. Most people don’t use barefaced anymore, and of the remaining two options, the preferred, professional term is bald-faced. Now that’s the truth!

 

This post was written by Maud Grauer. She is a content creator for Dot and Dash. You can read more of her writing on the Dot and Dash blog: www.dotanddashllc.com/blog

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