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Which is considered (more) correct: wracked by [X] or wracked with [X]?

Example sentences:

He is wracked with grief.

He is wracked by grief.

The Cambridge definition of wrack contains examples of historical use of both forms.

Thanks!

(Apologies if this has already been asked; I searched first, but only saw the more common question of rack versus wrack.)

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  • 2
    Hello, mogtek. CD would not give examples it considered incorrect. Google ngrams show that 'with' is used far more commonly nowadays, though in 1944 apparently the two choices were equally popular. Sep 14, 2023 at 15:47
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    @EdwinAshworth You're absolutely right re: CD. You've helped me realize I should have asked which (if either) is considered more appropriate to use now. From your Google ngrams search, sounds like 'with' is the answer? (Thanks also for the link to ngrams, I'll make sure to check that in future)
    – mogtek
    Sep 14, 2023 at 16:06
  • It's quite true that with is now the "preferred" preposition between wracked and guilt. But there's nothing remotely "unidiomatic" about either of them. On the other hand, when it comes to near-synonymous flushed and emboldened before success, it's practically always emboldened by success... Sep 14, 2023 at 16:13
  • ...and practically always flushed with success. That kinda suggests there aren't many useful "patterns" one could learn in this area. Sep 14, 2023 at 16:14
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    I don't know why your question was closed; it's possible that it seems, to some users, something too obvious for this site. (I disagree.) However, your question is in review to be reopened, if one more person votes to reopen, your question will be answerable again. Editing to link some ngrams may help, but I have a feeling your question will be reopened anyway :) Sep 14, 2023 at 16:58

1 Answer 1

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The distinction is subtle, and it's even possible that it's only illusory, but in the examples given by Cambridge it seems that "wracked by" is followed by the agent of ruin whereas "wracked with" is followed by the content of agony.

So we have:

  • "wracked by civil war"
  • "wracked by a titanic struggle"
  • "wracked by communal riots"

In these examples, the agent may not be a part of the result -- the war and rioting may be over, but the ruin remains.

On the other hand:

  • "wracked with pain"
  • "wracked with rheumatism"

Here, but for the pain and sickness there would be a whole person.

  • "wracked by famine."

This example shows the weakness of the distinction. "Wracked with famine" sounds identical, but then again, famine is the cause of famine...

In your example, I would probably use "wracked with grief" to describe someone who was currently grieving and "wracked by grief" to describe someone, say, whose life had been destroyed by past grief.

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  • I also Ngrammed this one. It's interesting that the recent divergence seems to come from British usage rather than American
    – KTM
    Sep 14, 2023 at 16:13
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    I'm not allowed to comment yet except on my own entries. What is the consensus for closing this question? It's an interesting and subtly flavored distinction that I, a native English speaker, had never before considered. Stack Exchange is getting way too fierce...
    – KTM
    Sep 14, 2023 at 16:19
  • I understand perfectly well the fine distinction you're making here, and without a doubt at least some speakers / writers would implement it in their own speech / writing. But far more won't, and it's worth noting that the most common noun after both wracked with and wracked by is guilt. That fact alone is enough to convince me that anyone who seeks to improve their command of English using sites like this will probably just end up confusing themselves with pointless details that only marginally reflect reality. Sep 14, 2023 at 16:23
  • I feel very conflicted by what you just said, but then I just got here. Just for my own clarity, if the question had been "what is the difference (if any)" instead of "which one is correct," would it have remained open?
    – KTM
    Sep 14, 2023 at 16:28
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    +1. Interesting and thoughtful answer. Welcome to EL&U, KTM.
    – Sven Yargs
    Sep 14, 2023 at 18:43

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