Garner’s Usage Tip of the Day: wreak.

wreak. Part A: Inflection “wreak/wreaked/wreaked.” The past tense is not “wrought,” which is the archaic past tense and past participle of “work.” Part B: Pronunciation. “Wreak” is pronounced /reek/ — not /rek/. Part C. “Wreak havoc.” The phrase “wreak havoc” (= to bring about difficulty, confusion, or chaos) is the established American English idiom. (In British English, the usual idiom is “play havoc.”) But “wreak havoc” has two variants to be avoided: *”wreck havoc” and *”work havoc.” E.g.: o “An inner struggle was working [read ‘wreaking’] havoc on Tracey’s normally cheerful demeanor.” Jay McInerney, “Smoke,” Atlantic Monthly, Mar. 1987, at 68. o “The floods of 1997 have wrecked [read ‘wreaked’] havoc at some Northern and Central California dairies.” Martha Groves, “Farming and Flood,” L.A. Times, 9 Jan. 1997, at D2. o “During [the character’s] 15 years in the underworld, 113 of the most evil types escape back to earth, wrecking [read ‘wreaking’] havoc at will.” M.S. Mason, “TV Goes Bump in the Night,” Christian Science Monitor, 13 Nov. 1998, at B1. Language-Change Index — (1) *”wreck havoc” for “wreak havoc”: Stage 1; (2) *”work havoc” for “wreak havoc”: Stage 1. *Invariably inferior form. For information about the Language-Change Index click here. Quotation of the Day: “Polishing at an early stage usually is a waste of time.” George J. Miller, On Legal Style, 43 Ky. L.J. 235, 239 (1955).
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