Nerve-racking or Nerve-wracking?

Shelley

There are times when I’m frustrated and disappointed by the poor quality of some of the features I see on the BBC news site, a place I visit on a daily basis, but this is because so much else of what appears there is so good. A few minutes ago, I was delighted to read this highly informative feature by The Vocabularist that went a long way towards clearing up a matter I’d often found myself wondering about, which was whether to write ‘nerve-racking’ or ‘nerve-wracking’ when describing apprehension or anxiety.

You can read and enjoy the post for yourself, but I was very pleased to learn that there’s a good case for both forms of this expression. The poet Shelley is the first person known to have used ‘nerve-racking’ in a letter written in 1812, while Shakespeare mysteriously wrote of ‘The Wrack’ rather than ‘The Rack’ that we might otherwise expect, in a First Folio edition of his play Henry VI.

I’m not sure whether I’d have used or indeed have used ‘nerve-racking’ or ‘nerve-wracking’ in the past, but now it doesn’t matter, because whichever form is employed by me or by anyone else, we’re in the happy position where we can point to a precedent by one of the unsurpassed geniuses of the English language.

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