The Language Perfectionist: What Hath Wrought Wreaked?

I found the following three sentences via online search. Can you spot anything wrong with them?

  • “The recent oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico has wrought havoc on sea and on land.”
  • “China’s exports began to fall in November as the global recession wrought havoc on the textile, toy, and steel industries.”
  • “This touch of scandal has wrought havoc on her social and love life, turning it into an open book.”

Charles Harrington Elster gives us the answer in his helpful new usage guide The Accidents of Style: Good Advice on How Not to Write Badly.

Wreaked is the proper past tense of wreak, which means ‘to cause, bring about.’ Wrought is an archaic past tense of the verb to work. Havoc is wreaked, caused or brought about; iron is wrought, manufactured in such a way that it can be readily worked.”

Be aware that the phrases “wreck havoc” and “work havoc” are also incorrect. But “play havoc” is acceptable.

[Ed Note: For more than three decades, Don Hauptman was an award-winning independent direct-response copywriter and creative consultant. He is author of The Versatile Freelancer, an e-book that shows writers and other creative professionals how to diversify their careers into speaking, consulting, training, and critiquing.]