What does the idiom "rack sb's brains" mean?

Idioms are generally defined as groups of words that form a meaningful whole when they come together, even though the words in them do not make sense on their own. They have produced many idioms according to their own cultural characteristics in communities using the English language. What does rack sb's brains mean? In what situations is rack sb's brains used?

Meaning of "rack sb's brains"


The idiomatic expression "rack one's brains" is used to describe a process of thinking hard and long in order to come up with a solution or an idea. It suggests that someone is making a special effort to remember or recall something, or to think of an idea they couldn't think of before. Additionally, it can be used as a figure of speech to describe someone who is really struggling to come up with something, or is having difficulty in trying to remember something.


The phrase "rack one's brains" derives from the Old English verb "racian," meaning "to search or to strain oneself." By the 15th century, it had evolved into the phrase "to rake in one's brains," referring to the process of sifting through one's thoughts and memories. Over time, the second word was changed from "rake" to "rack," which is a more common and recognizable term for a process of straining or stretching oneself to remember something.


The idiomatic expression "rack one's brains" is mainly used in informal contexts, such as a conversation among friends or family. It can also be used in a more literal context, such as when someone is trying to figure out a problem or answer a difficult question. Additionally, it can be used sarcastically, as a way of making fun of someone who is having difficulty in coming up with a solution or answer.

Example Sentences

  • I've been racking my brains all morning trying to think of a solution to this problem.
  • He's been racking his brains for hours trying to remember the name of that actor.
  • I'm sorry, I can't think of a good answer - I've racked my brains and come up with nothing.
  • I don't know the answer, but I'll keep racking my brains until I do.

The meanings of the words in the "rack sb's brains" idiom

From One Language to Another: Idioms in Translation

Translating idioms from one language to another can be a tricky task, as the cultural context behind an idiom can be difficult to capture. For example, the French phrase "avoir le cafard" translates to "to have the cockroach," which means to feel down or depressed. Similarly, the Chinese idiom "????" (j?ng d? zh? w?) translates to "frog at the bottom of a well," which refers to someone with a narrow view of the world.


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