The word set we’re examining today can send even experienced writers into a spiral of uncertainty when it comes to word choice, particularly in the context of one expression: is it piqued my interest, peaked my interest, or peeked my interest?
The answer is piqued—and here’s why: Pique means “to excite (interest, curiosity, etc.),” as in The suspenseful movie trailer piqued my curiosity. The term also means “to affect with sharp irritation and resentment, especially by some wound to pride,” which, of course, is another form of excitement, albeit undesirable.
A peak, on the other hand, is the pointed top of something, such as a mountain. When speaking figuratively, a peak is the highest or most important point or level, as in Campaigning with the president was the peak of her political career. As a verb, peak means “to attain the highest point of activity, development, or popularity, as in The artist peaked in the 1980s. It’s easy to understand the confusion. Excitement, when visualized, might evoke the idea of a high point.
Learning the subtleties in meaning is only half the battle; remembering which term to use in which context is what counts. One trick to remembering the difference is by focusing on Q in pique. Q is one of the least used letters in the English language, which makes it unique, or one might even say exciting. This association might help you remember that pique with a Q means “excite.”
There is a third homophone—or word that sounds the same but carries a different meaning and, in this case, a different spelling—in this group: peek. Peek means “to look or glance quickly or furtively, especially through a small opening or from a concealed location”: Before the performance, he peeked out from behind the curtain, and took a deep breath to steady his nerves. Associate the two Es in peek with the two Os in look, and you should have no trouble keeping this one straight.