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[hav-uh k] /ˈhæv ək/
great destruction or devastation; ruinous damage.
verb (used with object), havocked, havocking.
to work havoc upon; devastate.
verb (used without object), havocked, havocking.
to work havoc:
The fire havocked throughout the house.
cry havoc, to warn of danger or disaster.
play havoc with,
  1. to create confusion or disorder in:
    The wind played havoc with the papers on the desk.
  2. to destroy; ruin:
    The bad weather played havoc with our vacation plans.
Origin of havoc
late Middle English
1400-50; late Middle English havok < Anglo-French (in phrase crier havok to cry havoc, i.e., utter the command havoc! as signal for pillaging), Middle French havot in same sense < Germanic
Related forms
havocker, noun
1. desolation, waste. See ruin. Unabridged
Based on the Random House Dictionary, © Random House, Inc. 2018.
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Examples from the Web for cry havoc
Historical Examples
  • If it's war she wants, cry havoc and let slip the sleuth hounds.

    We Can't Have Everything Rupert Hughes
  • The first thing I knew I was sprinkling hell-fire on them, 'cry havoc, and let slip the dogs of war.'

    Different Girls

  • To cry havoc appears to have been a signal for indiscriminate slaughter.

    The Ornithology of Shakespeare James Edmund Harting
  • Do they in slumber enjoy again the midnight raid upon the marrow-bed, or cry havoc on the choicest lilies of the garden?

    In the West Country Francis A. Knight
British Dictionary definitions for cry havoc


destruction; devastation; ruin
(informal) confusion; chaos
(archaic) cry havoc, to give the signal for pillage and destruction
(often foll by with) play havoc, to cause a great deal of damage, distress, or confusion (to)
verb -ocs, -ocking, -ocked
(transitive) (archaic) to lay waste
Word Origin
C15: from Old French havot pillage, probably of Germanic origin
Collins English Dictionary - Complete & Unabridged 2012 Digital Edition
© William Collins Sons & Co. Ltd. 1979, 1986 © HarperCollins
Publishers 1998, 2000, 2003, 2005, 2006, 2007, 2009, 2012
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Word Origin and History for cry havoc



early 15c., from Anglo-French havok in phrase crier havok "cry havoc" (late 14c.), a signal to soldiers to seize plunder, from Old French havot "pillaging, looting," related to haver "to seize, grasp," hef "hook," probably from a Germanic source (see hawk (n.)), or from Latin habere "to have, possess." General sense of "devastation" first recorded late 15c.

Online Etymology Dictionary, © 2010 Douglas Harper
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Idioms and Phrases with cry havoc

cry havoc

Sound an alarm or warning, as in In his sermon the pastor cried havoc to the congregation's biases against gays. The noun havoc was once a command for invaders to begin looting and killing the defenders' town. Shakespeare so used it in Julius Caesar (3:1): “Cry 'Havoc' and let slip the dogs of war.” By the 19th century the phrase had acquired its present meaning.


The American Heritage® Idioms Dictionary
Copyright © 2002, 2001, 1995 by Houghton Mifflin Company. Published by Houghton Mifflin Company.
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