wreak » reek

Chiefly in:   reek havoc

Classification: English

Spotted in the wild:

  • High winds coupled with blowing sand produced limited visibility and reeked havoc in Garza County yesterday afternoon. (link)
  • Please do not use this to reek havoc in the 10th floor lab. (link)
  • I, like most, despair that our system, which allows most parties elected to government without a true mandate (ie they don’t have much more than a 40% 1st preference vote which means that most electors didn’t want them in power!), to reek havoc in legislation when elected. (Rob Pillar, Family First Party candidate for Makin, AU)
  • If this teenager wins the case (God forbid) it will be a licence for every trouble making “sacred young,” to reek havoc with complete impunity. (link)
  • In my college years I was on the pill, and my senior year I stopped taking it. As is now more known with PCOD the skin and hair follicles can reek havoc when not regulated, and that year I noticed a few stay hairs on my chin, down my side burns, and the hair above my lip was getting a little darker. (link)

Analyzed or reported by:

The reanalysis is a little hazy in this case. What is clear is that the meaning of _reek_ is becoming obscured. Citing AHD4:

> INTRANSITIVE VERB: 1. To smoke, steam, or fume. 2. To be pervaded by something unpleasant: “This document … reeks of self-pity and self-deception” (Christopher Hitchens). 3. To give off or become permeated with a strong unpleasant odor: “Grandma, who reeks of face powder and lilac water” (Garrison Keillor).
> TRANSITIVE VERB: 1. To emit or exude (smoke, for example). 2. To process or treat by exposing to the action of smoke.

On the other hand, the verb _wreak_ is now rather rare as well.

Maybe there is a semantic blend involved, with the figurative sense of _reek of [something]_, ie _have an aspect suggestive of [something]_, which rarely invokes the olfactory sense.

See also wreck havoc.

| link | entered by Chris Waigl, 2005/02/25 |


  1. 1

    Commentary by Arnold Zwicky , 2005/04/20 at 6:31 pm

    Amazingly, the opposite substitution, “reek of” >> “wreak of”, also occurs, but it’s probably just a spelling error. Jacques Guy cited “they wreak of old money” in a sci.lang posting of 11 April 2005. And from a Google search: “The apartments — they wreak of crime, they wreak of drugs and they wreak of prostitution … How uplifting can you get?” (http:/www.gregsopinion.com/archives/004223.html).

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