Don't Wreck Your Attempts To Wreak Havoc

If you want to wreak havoc, that's your prerogative. If you want to use the expression 'wreak havoc', don't come across like a moron by writing 'wreck havoc' instead.

Picture by Roberto Serra/Getty Images

I can almost understand how this mistake gets made. The word 'wreak' (which the Macquarie Dictionary usefully defines as "to inflict or execute") is uncommon. Someone who wasn't paying attention might easily assume the required word was 'wreck', a more frequently-encountered verb. But they would be wrong.

'Wreck havoc' makes no sense. Taken literally, it would mean destroying havoc, which would imply an orderly state, which is not what anyone usually means when they deploy this phrase. But that does not stop it being deployed, even in allegedly 'professional' contexts. Consider this howler from the official AFL site earlier this year:

COLD, blustery conditions are expected to wreck havoc at the MCG for Saturday's Grand Final.

(Pedant note: the headline on the linked story uses 'wreak', correctly. That doesn't help. Accuracy requires consistency.)

There's no clever trick I can offer to memorise this, beyond the obvious stupidity of writing 'wreck havoc'. Don't go there. Havoc (and judgement) will surely ensure.

Lifehacker's Mind Your Language column offers bossy advice on improving your writing.


    I love this series for the pacific examples of misusing words.

      I see what you did there.

      well for all intensive purposes
      this is the point of the article

    I find it sad that people need to be reminded about basic english, it reminds me of all the silly people i see on facebook who update their status " I'm board" i always ask if they are a surf board.... They usually dont get the joke because they don't know the difference :|

      Ignorance is indeed bliss.

    Worst bit is, these people are our teachers of tomorrow...

    I can't believe the hypocrisy of this article considering how poorly proof read a lot of the Giz articles are.

      I see what you tried to do there! ; )

      BTW this is Lifehacker... not Gizmodo

      Last edited 28/10/12 12:26 am

    Noticing errors like this is my life. There's something that's so especially irritating about a misspelled word that makes no actual sense in the context the person has placed it in. Like when people say 'apart' instead of 'a part'. Their meanings are almost completely opposing, and yet somehow people still get it wrong? Another is 'sneak peek'. I think I see sneek peek and sneak peak more often than the correct spelling.

    This article coming from someone who didn't know what widgets are...

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