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reek ; wreak

These homophones are occasionally confused. Reek, verb, = to give off an odor or vapor <the house reeked of gas>. Reek, noun, = an odorous vapor <the reek of garlic spoiled our conversation>. Wreak = to inflict, bring about <to wreak havoc>.

The misspelling *reek havoc is a frequent blunder—e.g.:

  • “Past hurricanes have reeked [read wreaked] havoc on this small fishing community of east Apalachicola.”

    “The News in Brief,” Christian Science Monitor, 6 June 1995, at 2.

  • “Pesticides and mite infestations already have reeked [read wreaked] havoc on the population.”

    “Across the USA: News from Every State,” USA Today, 7 May 1996, at A8.

Also, wreak for reek is a surprisingly common slip-up—e.g.:

  • “Watching Jagger, a grandfather, singing the songs of his youth is embarrassing—like watching an old tart plastered in powder, wreaking [read reeking] of cheap perfume, stumbling along the Champs-Elysees, leering at passersby.”

    Natasha Garnett, “Focus: The Rolling Stones,” Daily Telegraph, 7 Aug. 1994, at 14.

  • “Though such a statement wreaks [read reeks] of hyperbole, Alexakis truly seemed more comfortable with the intimate give-and-take at this sold-out Middle East date on his solo tour.”

    Tristram Lozaw, “Music: Alexakis Finds Comfort Zone,” Boston Herald, 10 Apr. 1997, at 53.

  • “Nate Newton has leaked a little information in response to reports that the Cowboys’ dorm rooms at St. Edward’s University wreaked [read reeked] of urine and were otherwise in a mess upon the team’s checkout from training camp last week.”

    Tim Price, “Newton Says Dorm Free of Any Pee,” San Antonio Express-News, 21 Aug. 1997, at C1.

See wreak (C).

*Reak is a common misspelling of reek—e.g.:

  • “The oil company subsequently hired a firm to clean the oil, but after six weeks of work and a declaration the house was inhabitable, the house still ‘reaked [read reeked] of oil,’ Hansen said.”

    MaryAnn Spoto, “Suit Seeks Damages for Oil Spill Nightmare,” Star-Ledger (Newark), 26 Sept. 1997, at 51.

  • “Those who have briefly been able to visit the residential buildings have reported finding them filled with ash and reaking [read reeking] of rotting food.”

    David Usborne, “America’s Own Refugees: People Who Can’t Go Home,” Independent, 19 Sept. 2001, at 11.

And a double bobble results when the misspelling *reak havoc displaces the correct form, wreak havoc—e.g.:

“January arrived on the UW-Platteville campus and reaked [read wreaked] havoc with the men’s basketball record.”

Nick Zizzo, “Pioneers Get Back on Track,” Wis. State J., 1 Feb. 2001, at E3.

Language-Change Index

  • 1. *reek havoc for wreak havoc: Stage 1

  • 2. wreak misused for reek: Stage 1

  • 3. *reak as a misspelling of wreak or reek: Stage 1

  • An asterisk (✳) precedes words and phrases that are invariably inferior forms.
    Garner’s Modern American Usage, Bryan A. Garner

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