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.
*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.
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