English has a rich, extensive vocabulary. Problem is, sometimes those words run into each other, resulting in a tangled set of homophones, words that are pronounced the same but have different meanings.
The word set we’re examining today can send writers into a spiral of uncertainty when it comes to word choice, particularly in the context of one expression: piqued my interest, peaked my interest, or peeked my interest.
When do you use piqued?
The answer is piqued—and here’s why. Pique means, among other senses, “to excite (interest, curiosity, etc.),” as in the suspenseful movie trailer piqued my curiosity. The term can also mean “to affect with sharp irritation and resentment, especially by some wound to pride.” This, of course, is another form of excitement, if undesirable.
Pique, in case etymology aids your usage, comes from the French piquer, whose root sense is “to prick” and is related to the English pick and pike.
When do you use peaked?
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 (past tense peaked) means “to attain the highest point of activity, development, or popularity,” as in “The artist peaked in the 1980s.” In in the 2000s, we’ve even taken to using peak as an adjective for a kind of point of saturation, e.g., With so many great shows to watch, I can hardly keep up. Have we reached peak TV?
When do you use peeked?
There is yet a third contributor to our homophone heap: peek. Peek means “to look or glance quickly or furtively, especially through a small opening or from a concealed location.” Here’s an example: Before the performance, he peeked out from behind the curtain, and took a deep breath to steady his nerves.
How can you remember which homophone to use?
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 to focus on the 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.”
Here’s another tip: If you associate the two Es in peek with the two Os in look, you should have no trouble keeping this one straight.