wreak havoc

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see play havoc.



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


What does wreak havoc mean?

To wreak havoc is to cause chaos or destruction or both.

Wreak means to inflict or cause. 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 phrases play havoc and raise havoc mean the same thing as wreak havoc. The past tense of wreak havoc is wreaked havoc. Sometimes, the word wrought is used as a past tense of wreak. This isn’t considered standard usage, but the phrase wrought havoc still makes sense.

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

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

Where does wreak havoc come from?

The phrase wreak havoc has been used since at least the 1800s. The word havoc 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.

Today, havoc is no longer closely associated with pillaging, but an invading army pillaging and causing chaos and destruction is a perfect example of wreaking havoc. Unlike raise havoc and play havoc, which are synonyms of wreak havoc, the phrase cry havoc means “to sound the alarm” (typically as a warning when something destructive is about to happen).

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What are some other forms related to wreak havoc?

  • wreaked havoc (past tense)

What are some synonyms for wreak havoc?

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

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

How is wreak havoc used in real life?

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


Try using wreak havoc!

Which of the following terms is NOT a synonym of wreak havoc?

A. play havoc
B. raise havoc
C. cry havoc
D. disrupt

Example sentences from the Web for wreak havoc

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