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.]

Don Hauptman was an award-winning independent direct-response copywriter and creative consultant for more than 30 years. He may be best known for his headline “Speak Spanish [French, German, etc.] Like a Diplomat!” This familiar series of ads sold spectacular numbers of recorded foreign language lessons for Audio-Forum, generating revenues that total in the tens of millions of dollars. In the process, the ad achieved the status of an industry classic. Don’s work is mentioned in three major college advertising textbooks, and examples of his promotions are cited in the books Million Dollar Mailings (1992) and World's Greatest Direct Mail Sales Letters (1996). In a column in Advertising Age, his name was included in a short list of direct-marketing “superstars.” He has a parallel career as a writer on language and wordplay. His celebration of spoonerisms, Cruel and Unusual Puns (Dell, 1991), received rave reviews and quickly went into a second printing. His second book was Acronymania (Dell, 1993). Recently, Don retired from full-time copywriting in order to focus on other interests, including his passion for “recreational linguistics.” He is at work on a new book in that genre. He is a regular contributor to the magazine Word Ways and writes “The Language Perfectionist,” a weekly column on grammar and usage, for Early to Rise. Don is author of The Versatile Freelancer,an e-book from American Writers and Artists, Inc. (AWAI) that shows copywriters – and almost anyone – how to diversify their careers into consulting, training, critiquing, and speaking.