Rack Your Brains

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OK so picture the scene - there you are on who wants to be a millionaire, and you have just been asked a question that could make your name in lights and win you the cool million.

Trouble is, you think you know the answer but can't quite bring it to the front of your mind. You are, if you will, veritably racking your brains for the answer, but you haven't yet seen the light.

So what is the origin of this phrase?

Well, it turns out that it literally comes from that torture instrument, the rack, that was used to stretch people and literally cause them pain and maybe tear them apart in a rather gory sense. Now, racking their brains was therefore something that was mentally quite tortuous, and so it came to mean in a rather less painful sense anything that makes you really examine and use your brain hard.

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