at rack and manger: Idiom Meaning and Origin

What does ‘at rack and manger’ mean?

The idiom "at rack and manger" means to be constantly busy or working tirelessly, putting all efforts into a task or responsibility.

Idiom Explorer

Unrestrained Pursuit

The idiom "at rack and manger" is an interesting expression that has its roots in the horse and stable culture of the past. Here are the facts:

This idiom combines two separate idioms: "at rack" and "at manger." Both refer to the feeding habits of horses and are used metaphorically in this expression.

"At rack" refers to horses positioning themselves at the rack, a structure where they are fed hay. This implies eager consumption, as horses readily gather around the rack to eat.

"At manger" is another reference to horses and their feeding habits. A manger is a trough or box where horses are fed grains and other feeds. Being "at manger" suggests being close to the food source and actively partaking in its contents.

When these two idioms combine to form "at rack and manger," it signifies an intense, all-consuming involvement or engagement with something. It suggests individuals or a group being completely absorbed and focused on a particular activity or pursuit.

This idiom is often used in a negative or cautionary context, warning against excessive dedication. It can imply neglect of other important responsibilities or losing sight of the bigger picture in favor of one specific task.

The horses fed from the manger in the rack.

The origins of this idiom can be traced back to the early 19th century, where it gained popularity in literary and spoken usage. Its equine origins suggest it was commonly understood in equestrian circles and likely spread to wider usage through interactions between horse owners and the general population.

As with many idioms, the precise origin and evolution of "at rack and manger" are difficult to pinpoint. Its metaphorical usage likely grew from the familiarity of the horse-owning population with the literal behavior of horses at feeding time.

This intense involvement can be seen in related idioms. For example, the idiom "rack and ruin" expresses a similar sense of all-consuming engagement, but with negative consequences. It suggests that if one becomes too focused on a particular endeavor, neglecting other aspects of life, they may experience downfall or destruction.

Similarly, the idiom "at all hours" portrays a person being involved or available at all times. It implies a constant state of engagement or commitment, much like being "at rack and manger."

Another related idiom, "drop off the hooks," conveys the idea of being fully engaged or absorbed in an activity. It suggests being so engrossed that one is oblivious to distractions or external pressures.

The idiom "busy as a bee" is also connected to "at rack and manger." It paints a picture of someone being industrious and fully occupied, much like a horse at the rack and manger.

Lastly, the phrase "bang away" signifies intense and determined effort, similar to the focused consumption of food by horses at the rack and manger.

The idiom "at rack and manger" captures the intense and single-minded approach that horses have towards their food. When applied to human endeavors, it serves as a cautionary reminder of the potential pitfalls of becoming too consumed by one aspect of life. Although its exact origin remains elusive, its meaning and implications are clear.

Example usage

  • He spent all his money at rack and manger, living a lavish lifestyle without thinking about the consequences.

  • She worked at rack and manger, never taking a break and pushing herself to the limit to meet the deadline.

  • They traveled at rack and manger, visiting multiple countries and experiencing as much as possible in a short amount of time.

The idiom "at rack and manger" is used to describe a situation where someone is acting recklessly or extravagantly, without any regard for the future or the consequences. It implies a behavior characterized by excess and lack of restraint.

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