Word Confusion: Reek versus Wreak

Posted May 26, 2016 by Kathy Davie in Author Resources, Self-Editing, Word Confusions, Writing

Revised as of 7 October 2017

“His tongue was a warm stroke right up her center, reeking havoc on her nervous system.”

Poor thing. Although, I had no idea that one’s nervous system had a sense of smell…

Ya know…in real life, a lot of women think they…smell…down there. It’s not helping when an author reinforces that idea.

Of course, it’s more likely that the author meant to say wreaking havoc.

Word Confusions…

…started as my way of dealing with a professional frustration with properly spelled words that were out of context in manuscripts I was editing as well as books I was reviewing. It evolved into a sharing of information with y’all. I’m hoping you’ll share with us words that have been a bête noir for you from either end. Consider sharing this Word Confusion with friends by tweeting it.

Reek Wreak
Credit to: Apple Dictionary.com; Dictionary.com: reek and wreak

Truck dumping garbage in the Hackensack Meadows dump.

“Truck Piling Garbage in Hackensack Meadows Dump Behind Ft. Lee” by Gary Miller, Photographer (NARA record: 8464459) courtesy of the U.S. National Archives and Records Administration is in the public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

The reek from all that garbage…phew…

New Orleans, LA, August 30, 2005 -- People sit on a roof waiting to be rescued after Hurricane Katrina.

“Katrina” by Jocelyn Augustino from the FEMA Photo Library is in the public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

Hurricane Katrina is notorious for wreaking New Orleans and a good portion of the South.

Part of Grammar:
Singular Noun; Verb, intransitive & transitive

Plural for noun: reek
Third person present verb: reeks
Past tense or past participle: reeked
Gerund or present participle: reeking

Verb, transitive

Third person present verb: wreaks
Past tense or past participle: wreaked
Gerund or present participle: wreaking

Singular Noun:
A foul smell

[Chiefly Scottish] Smoke

Vapor or steam

Verb, intransitive:
Smell strongly and unpleasantly

  • Stink
  • Be suggestive of something unpleasant or undesirable
  • [Archaic] Give off smoke, steam, or fumes

To be wet with sweat, blood, etc.

To be strongly pervaded with something unpleasant or offensive

Verb, transitive:
To give off

  • Emit
  • Exude

To expose to or treat with smoke


Verb, transitive:
To inflict vengeance, etc.

To cause chaos, etc.

To cause a large amount of damage or harm

To express or gratify (anger, hatred, etc.)

[Archaic] To take vengeance for

[Archaic] Avenge someone who has been wronged

Singular Noun:
The reek of cattle dung permeated the cottage.

Look at the reek from that chimney.

The reek from your stinky body tells me it’s been too long since you took a shower.

The reek is enough to make your eyes water.

Verb, intransitive:
The yard reeked of wet straw and stale horse manure.

Geez, man, your breath reeks!

The speeches reeked of anti-Semitism.

While temples crash, and towers in ashes reek.

Verb, transitive:
It reeks of marijuana.

If power-hungry could smell, he’d reek of it.

Verb, transitive:
We shall wreak havoc on the enemy!

“His tongue was a warm stroke right up her center, wreaking havoc on her nervous system.”

Torrential rainstorms wreaked havoc yesterday.

The environmental damage wreaked by ninety years of phosphate mining is devastating.

He was determined to wreak his revenge on the girl who had rejected him.

Grant me some knight to wreak me for my son.

Adjective: reeking, reeky
Adverb: reekingly
Noun: reeker

Noun: wreaker
History of the Word:
Old English rēocan meaning give out smoke or vapor. It’s related to the Dutch rieken meaning to smell, rook meaning smoke, the German riechen meaning to smell and Rauch meaning smoke.

The noun rēc meaning smoke is of Germanic origin.

Old English wrecan meaning drive (out) or avenge is of Germanic origin; it’s also related to the Dutch wreken and German rächen.

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C’mon, get it out of your system, bitch, whine, moan…which words are your pet peeves?

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