“Wreck,” “Wreak,” and Other [rek] Words
I saw this in an article about caring for a laptop:
If you store your laptop in the vehicle for any period of time, keep in mind that the extreme temperature ranges within the vehicle could wreck havoc with your laptop.
It’s not the first time I’ve seen the word “wreck” substituted for “wreak” in the expression “wreak havoc.”
Both words have similar origins, but in modern usage they are pronounced differently and have different meanings.
wreak [reek] v. to bring about, inflict, as in wreak havoc, wreak vengeance
wreck [reck] v. to cause ruin or damage
wreck [reck] n. something that has been ruined
The Old English verb wrecan meant “to drive, drive out, avenge.” Old Norse had a similar word. In Anglo-French these words evolved into a noun, wrec meaning “goods cast ashore after a shipwreck, flotsam.”
The word reckless has a different origin. The Old English word reccan (past tense rohte) meant “to care, to trouble about, heed.” From it came a noun, rece meaning “care.” A reckless person doesn’t care what happens.
The word reckon comes from another OE verb spelled reccan (past tense reahte). This one meant “to expound, relate.” One still talks about “reckoning accounts,” or, in a metaphorical sense, “the Final Reckoning.”
“I reckon” is a dialect expression for “I guess, I suppose.”
Then there’s reek.
reek [reek] n. a bad smell
reek [reek] v. to emit a bad smell
The Old English word rec meant “smoke from burning material.” Reek acquired the sense of “stench” in the 17th century.
So, back to the words that inspired this article: the next time you want to wreak havoc, don’t wreck your credibility by misspelling or mispronouncing wreak.
Subscribe and Get a Free eBook: 100 Writing Mistakes to Avoid
- The subscription is completely free, and we only send out one email per week, on Tuesdays
- Our emails are fun and educating and will help you improve your writing skills
- You can unsubscribe anytime you want and keep the e-book as a gift