Definition of havoc in English:

Share this entry


Pronunciation: /ˈhavək/


[mass noun]
1Widespread destruction: the hurricane ripped through Florida causing havoc
More example sentences
  • Marcellus was struck down sick and incapacitated when a galactic storm struck the outer planets, creating destruction and havoc.
  • A tornado is a funnel-shaped cloud that descends on land, creating havoc and destruction in its wake.
  • With that, the fight broke loose, along with pure havoc and destruction.
devastation, destruction, damage, desolation, depredation, despoliation, ruination, ruin, disaster, ravagement, waste, catastrophe
1.1Great confusion or disorder: if they weren’t at school they’d be wreaking havoc in the streets
More example sentences
  • Many people fear that if children weren't at school they be wreaking havoc in the streets all day.
  • Sutton's police chief has pledged to make the borough the safest in London by waging war on career criminals and drug traders wreaking havoc in our communities.
  • One easy-going and tolerant who could not understand fellow travellers who complained about her children wreaking havoc on a long train journey.
disorder, chaos, disruption, mayhem, bedlam, pandemonium, turmoil, tumult, confusion, uproar;
commotion, upheaval, furore, shambles
informal hullabaloo, a madhouse
North American informal a three-ring circus

verb (havocs, havocking, havocked)

[with object] archaic
Lay waste to; devastate.
Example sentences
  • The lack of participants is associated to a large storm that havocked Latvia in January 2005 and uprooted and destroyed large forest areas.
  • In the year 2139 the world is havocked by a cataclysm of seismic activity.


play havoc with

Completely disrupt: shift work plays havoc with the body clock
More example sentences
  • Frequently stopping to rest plays havoc with your body's temperature - and leaves you drenched in sweat.
  • Also, try not to skip meals - it plays havoc with your blood sugar levels, your emotions and your metabolism.
  • Manual labour obviously plays havoc with your digestive system.
disturb, disrupt, disorder, disorganize, disarrange, interfere with, upset, unsettle, convulse;
obstruct, impede, hamper;
hold up, delay, retard, slow (down);
throw into confusion, throw into disorder, throw into disarray, cause confusion/turmoil in, derange, turn upside-down, make a mess of;
ruin, wreck, spoil, undo, mar, frustrate, blight, crush, quell, quash, dash, scotch, shatter, devastate, demolish, sabotage
informal mess up, screw up, louse up, foul up, make a hash of, do in, put paid to, put the lid on, put the kibosh on, stymie, queer, nix, banjax, blow a hole in
British informal scupper, dish, throw a spanner in the works of
North American informal throw a monkey wrench in the works of
Australian informal euchre, cruel


Late Middle English: from Anglo-Norman French havok, alteration of Old French havot, of unknown origin. The word was originally used in the phrase cry havoc (Old French crier havot) 'to give an army the order havoc', which was the signal for plundering.

  • A victorious army commander would once have given his soldiers a signal to start plundering: he would cry havoc. The sense of plunder gradually passed into destructive devastation, and the army itself would make havoc. Outside the battlefield other people and other circumstances eventually began to work havoc or, from the 20th century, to create or wreak havoc and to play havoc with something. The word havoc itself is a medieval alteration of French havot of unknown origin. The word was memorably used by Shakespeare in Julius Caesar: ‘Cry, “Havoc!”, and let slip the dogs of war.’ See also mayhem

For editors and proofreaders

Line breaks: havoc

Share this entry

What do you find interesting about this word or phrase?

Comments that don't adhere to our Community Guidelines may be moderated or removed.