Wreak and Pique Revisited

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A plaintive email from a reader has prompted this post on these two misused and abused rhyming verbs:

“A new civil trial…is poised to wreck havoc on the 100-year-old institution’s reputation.” Shouldn’t that be wreak?

And shouldn’t “My interest was peaked” be “My interest was piqued”? I see that everywhere it seems. Though peaked might be an okay substitute—it sort of means something similar.

1. Yes, the phrase should be “to wreak havoc.”
2. No, peaked is not an okay substitute for piqued.

In modern usage, wreak [REEK] is a transitive verb usually followed by a limited number of object words that include vengeance, havoc, and damage. Storms are the most common wreakers. The past tense form is wreaked [REEKT].

Here are some examples of wreak being used correctly:

Tropical storm Arthur expected to wreak havoc on East Coast

Storms wreaking havoc across UK

Northeasters also wreaked damage in 1991 and 1992.

January Jones Discusses Wreaking Vengeance in the Sundance Film ‘Sweetwater’

The word pique [PEEK], as both noun and verb, has more than one meaning. The verb’s most common use is in the sense of stimulate or arouse. The past form is piqued [PEEKT].

Here are some examples in which the verb is spelled correctly:

The request piqued my interest and I began what has become a continuing search for documentaries relating to the Comanches.

Foreign cricket players hope to pique Lebanese interest

New Study Provides Insight into How Piquing Curiosity Changes Our Brains

It’s not surprising when entertainment site comments and self-published novels contain errors like these:

I still have the feeling that Stavros is alive and the two of them will connect and reek havoc on Pt. Charles.

It’s my understanding that you have been using him to wreck vengeance on the descendants of the clergy, and soldiers of New France because of some perceived wrong doing [sic].

I thought [Grimm] was ok. I’ll probably keep watching, but the pilot didn’t peak my interest right from the start.

As one does expect news sources and professional publications to use words correctly, the following errors are less tolerable:

Gov. Martin O’Malley declared a state of emergency one day before a winter storm is expected to wreck havoc in Maryland—Baltimore Post Examiner.

If they come from violent and abusive homes, children learn to be violent…will grow up to wreck vengeance on themselves and those around them.—Social justice site.

Four houses destroyed by fire and lightning as the weekend’s thunderstorms wrecked havoc across Britain—Daily Mail.

Extremely high rain soaked [sic] winds wrecked havoc by downing trees and disrupting schools and traffic in the Bay Area—ABC News.

All the teachers are engaging and do their best to peak the interest of the student.—Site advertising private school in Washington DC.

Though we were enjoying a near perfect day in Oakland, hearing the name Birmingham not only peaked his interest but also placed him back on the Jim Crow bus system in Alabama.—Huffington Post columnist.

Misspelling pique is perhaps more understandable than misspelling wreak because peak, peek, and pique are all pronounced the same.

Pronunciation offers no excuse for mixing up wreak [REEK] and wreck [REK], however.

Bottom line: Speakers who care about the language don’t require excuses for misspelling words they use in daily speech. They learn the differences.

Related posts:
Wreck, Wreak, and Other [rek/reek] Words
Reeking and Wreaking
Please, Let Your Interest Be Piqued

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6 thoughts on “Wreak and Pique Revisited”

  1. Wreak and wreck both come from the Proto-Germanic *wrekan.

    And a few folks do say ‘wreak’ with the ‘ea’ to rime with ‘bread’ … thus is sounds like ‘wreck’.

    Merriam webster has: \ˈrēk also ˈrek\

  2. Maeve,

    You say the past tense of ‘wreak’ is ”wreaked.’ No argument there, but what about ‘wrought’? It’s still in use, and I’m more accustomed to it in that role.

  3. Curtis,
    The word “wrought” is an old past form of the verb “work.”
    It survives in just a few expressions. For example, “wrought iron” is iron that has been worked into a certain form. In the old days, farmers “wrought in the fields.” A line from the King James translation of the Bible that’s quoted in many a history textbook is “What hath God wrought?” This is the first message that Samuel Morse sent over a newly-opened telegraph line in 1844. A “wright” is a worker.

  4. A few folks might say wreak to rhyme with bread. But those folks are mispronouncing wreak. So if their own mispronunciation fools them into misspelling, (as wreck) then they need to fix that. Merriam Webster has
    [\ˈnü-kyə-lər\] too. To hijack Mr Bumble: Merriam Webster is a ass.

    Just to second Maeve, wrought is not a form of wreak.

  5. Hmmm, pretty amazing, I watched a whole movie a couple of months ago titled “Wreck it, Ralph!” and I almost never noticed anything unconventional :-O

  6. @Abbas: What would you think is unconventional? Wreck, as in the movie title, should be the proper word as far as I can tell. Wrecking is presumably something Ralph is being encouraged to do. “Wreak it, Ralph” would make no sense. I suppose his wrecking could wreak havoc on something…

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