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I have read that Don Armado is one of those rackers of orthography who distort the written language when they convert it into speech. What is the origin of the word rackers? What does it mean?

Holofeners: "He draweth out the thread of his verbosity finer than the staple of his argument [...] such rackers of orthography, as to speak dout, fine, when he should said doubt; [...]."

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Why didn't you give the context or quote the original Shakespeare or give a link to it? (the google books link didn't work for me, so I googled for it). It's common courtesy to do the research work first and then give links with explanation of where you got it from, when composing your question to begin with. –  Mitch Apr 10 '12 at 17:12
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@JohnLawler: yes, literally you are right, but the original Shakespeare really is about converting writing into speech. –  Mitch Apr 10 '12 at 18:16
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@FumbleFingers: How can it not be on topic? –  Mitch Apr 10 '12 at 21:35
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@FumbleFingers: in what sense is Shakespeare not 'English Language'? The difference between abhominable and abominable would make a fine question. Vocatur could be queried, but then so could exempli gratia. Anyway, this has been discussed on meta, and any form of English is on-topic, though translations are not. And if you think Shakespeare is off-topic for translation, I shall vote to close all the New York Times questions: Maureen Dowd's language is considerably more foreign than Shakespeare's. –  TimLymington Apr 10 '12 at 21:42
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@Carlo_R: I just don't understand why you ask many of the questions you do here. I don't wish to seem disrespectful, but you clearly don't have great fluency in modern English usage. Surely it would make more sense for you to use ELU as a tool to address that shortcoming? I'm only one person with one vote here, so it's obviously not just me causing the majority of your questions to be closed. –  FumbleFingers Apr 11 '12 at 13:33
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2 Answers

up vote 6 down vote accepted

If you'd spelt Holofernes right, it would have been easier to pick up that this is from Shakespeare. Holofernes, in Love's Labour Lost, is a pompous, self-satisfied schoolmaster, who takes it on himself to criticise other people's English. (Thank goodness we have none such on this site.) He means that Don Armado is torturing the language when he pronounces doubt 'dout', and debt, 'det'. Yes, these are the modern pronunciations. Even in the sixteenth century they were common; but it is possible, if you are a small-minded pedant with less education than you think, to say they are wrong, based on etymology. It would be a mistake to think Holofernes is meant as a serious character; much more so to rely on his views on English.

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Thank you Jasper. It was in fact a typo, but it would have looked embarrassingly as if I were hoist with my own petard. –  TimLymington Apr 10 '12 at 17:17
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I would hazard a guess that it has something to do with the rack. NOAD defines rack (v.) as to "cause extreme physical or mental pain to; subject to extreme stress," which definition is obviously based on its subsidiary one, to "torture (someone) on the rack," which was "an instrument of torture consisting of a frame on which the victim was stretched by turning rollers to which the wrists and ankles were tied."

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M-W seems to confirm—merriam-webster.com/dictionary/racker –  zpletan Apr 10 '12 at 16:41
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