Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Wrecking havoc in the sports pages

A few days ago, Globe reader Erin H. spotted a report in the paper saying that the weather has "wrecked havoc" on the Olympic schedule, and she wondered:
Is "wrecked havoc" the correct past tense of "wreak havoc" (I always thought it was "wrought havoc"), or is [the reporter] using it here as the past tense of "wreck havoc"? After an internet search I still can't really tell if there are one, two, or three past tense forms of wreak havoc.
The situation is complicated, to say the least. There's a nice summary of the "wreaked/wrought havoc" variation at The Mavens' Word-of-the-Day, including this clarification of the verbs' family ties:
The past tense and past participle of wreak is always wreaked: "The eruption of Mount Usu has wreaked havoc in Japan." However, wreak/wreaked is sometimes replaced by another verb work/worked: "The volcanic eruption has worked havoc." Occasionally, the archaic past tense of work is used: "The volcanic eruption has wrought havoc." So wrought is not an incorrect substitute for wreaked, but rather an archaic variant of worked.
For good measure, you'll want to check the Mavens' discussion of rack/wrack too. And don't miss Arnold Zwicky's blog post from last week on the interplay of wreck, wrack, and rack, as in "going to (w)rack and ruin." An excerpt:
The OED (draft revision of June 2008) says that rack in rack and ruin is a variant of wrack, which is historically earlier. It has cites for to wrack in the relevant sense from 1412, and for to wrack and ruin from 1577; to rack in the relevant sense is attested from 1599, to rack and ruin from 1706. That is, the wrack of destruction got there first, but there’s been variation for a very long time.
But to answer Erin's actual question: No, we don't wreck havoc or go to wreck and ruin. Or rather, we do, but it's the one usage among all the possibilities that pretty much everyone considers wrong.


Charles Matthews said...


Jan said...

I don't know why the link to "reek havoc" (above) doesn't work, but the headline is there all right, at universalsports.com. (Not that you don't believe us.)


The Ridger, FCD said...

This made me think of the Baltimore Sun writer who wrote of Freddie Lynn that he played center field with "wreckless abandon". Alas, no; it was far too often wreckful.