[ hav-uhk ]
/ ˈhæv ək /
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See synonyms for: havoc / havocked / havocking on Thesaurus.com


great destruction or devastation; ruinous damage.

verb (used with object), hav·ocked, hav·ock·ing.

to work havoc upon; devastate.

verb (used without object), hav·ocked, hav·ock·ing.

to work havoc: The fire havocked throughout the house.



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Idioms for havoc

    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

First recorded in 1400–50; late Middle English havok, from 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, from Germanic
1. See ruin.
hav·ock·er, noun
Dictionary.com Unabridged Based on the Random House Unabridged Dictionary, © Random House, Inc. 2021


What does havoc mean?

Havoc means chaos, disorder, or confusion. It can also mean destruction, damage, or ruin. In many cases, it refers to a combination of these things.

The phrase wreak havoc means to cause chaos or destruction or both. The phrases play havoc and raise havoc mean the same thing.

Havoc is associated with seriously destructive and chaotic situations, such as natural disasters, as in The hurricane caused havoc throughout the region. But it can be used in a range of situations. An illness can wreakhavoc on your body. A virus can cause havoc in a computer network. The wind can wreak havoc on your hair. In most cases, havoc causes a situation that was (at least somewhat) orderly to become disorderly, especially when there is damage or destruction involved.

The phrase cry havoc means to raise an alarm or give a warning.

Havoc can be used as a verb meaning to cause havoc or destroy, but this is rare.

Example: A major accident on the highway has wreaked havoc on the morning commute, causing traffic jams and delays for miles around.

Where does havoc come from?

The first records of the word havoc come from around the 1400s. It comes from the Old French havot, meaning “to pillage” (to violently loot and plunder a place, especially during a war). In Anglo-French, the spelling havok was used in the phrase crier havok, meaning “to cry havoc.” This refers to the practice of a military commander shouting “Havoc!” as a command to start pillaging.

Shakespeare uses it this way in Julius Caesar: “Cry ‘Havoc!’, and let slip the dogs of war.” Eventually, cry havoc took on a new meaning: “to sound the alarm” (typically as a warning when something destructive is about to happen). Today, havoc is no longer closely associated with pillaging, but the chaos and destruction that happen when an invading army pillages a place is a perfect example of havoc.

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What are some other forms related to havoc?

  • havocked (past tense verb)
  • havocking (continuous tense verb)
  • havocker (noun)

What are some synonyms for havoc?

What are some words that share a root or word element with havoc

What are some words that often get used in discussing havoc?

How is havoc used in real life?

Havoc is used in the context of situations that involve chaos, destruction, and often both.


Try using havoc!

Which of the following words is NOT a synonym of havoc?

A. calm
B. devastation
C. chaos
D. mayhem

British Dictionary definitions for havoc

/ (ˈhævək) /


destruction; devastation; ruin
informal confusion; chaos
cry havoc archaic to give the signal for pillage and destruction
play havoc (often foll by with) to cause a great deal of damage, distress, or confusion (to)

verb -ocs, -ocking or -ocked

(tr) archaic to lay waste
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

Idioms and Phrases with havoc


see cry havoc; play havoc.

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