Posted by: Jack Henry | December 4, 2018

Editor’s Corner: What can you wreak?

Dear Editrix,

In the midst of exerting restraint from drinking at work while anxiously awaiting the election results, I wondered why we say, “wreaking havoc.” I don’t recall wreaking anything else (although my seat mate on the bus is frequently reeking of garlic) and we don’t seem to wreak anything happy like “wreaking joy.”

Perhaps you could explore “wreaking havoc”?


Your devoted reader

Dear devoted reader,

I would love to explore wreaking havoc! I have several ideas about how to do just that at my next holiday party!

No, I would never do something like that. J I did, however, investigate this term, because like you mention, we don’t ever hear about people wreaking positive things such as love, joy, and happiness. Here is some interesting information I found in an article about people misusing the phrase, saying “wreck havoc” rather than “wreak havoc.” From the Oxford Dictionaries blog:

The word wreak means “to cause or inflict” and is usually paired with nouns meaning either “a large amount of damage or harm” (as in wreak havoc or wreak devastation) or “vengeance” (as in wreak revenge). Although it would sound somewhat archaic today, the word wreak can also be used alone, without an object, to mean “avenge.”

On the other hand, the verb form of the word wreck, means to “destroy or severely damage (a structure or vehicle)” or “spoil completely.” Because wreck does not have the sense of “cause” or “inflict” like wreak does, the phrase “wrecking havoc” is illogical.

Using that definition of wreak, you can see that it would be tough to “wreak joy,” since that would mean “to cause, inflict, or avenge joy.” Inflict is another word that isn’t associated with pleasant things. In fact, let’s have a quick look at that word, too. From Etymology Online:

inflict (v.)

1560s, "assail, trouble;" 1590s, "lay or impose as something that must be suffered," from Latin inflictus, past participle of infligere "to strike or dash against; inflict," from in– "in" (from PIE root *en "in") + fligere (past participle flictus) "to dash, strike" (see afflict). You inflict trouble on someone; you afflict someone with trouble. Shame on you.

On that note, I’d like to say, “Have a lovely day!”

Kara Church

Technical Editor, Advisory

Symitar Documentation Services

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