Sunday, March 16, 2008

Peak versus Peek versus Pique

I've mentioned my pet peeve tweaked by pique, but I see peak used to mean both peek and pique with increasing frequency in the fora that I visit over the course of a week. For those of you who are still unsure, I'll lay out the words' definitions below. If you share this pet peeve, please, for the love of all that's good, uphold their proper usage.

A peak means the topmost point of something, its apex or point. You normally use it as a noun, although you can use it to indicate something that reaches it's maximum point, as when a storm peaks and then blows away. You may also employ peak as an adjective, as when describing the peak tourist season in your home town as “never”.

Peek indicates either a quick look or something barely visible peeking out of its hiding place. You can peek from behind the curtain, take a peek at the monsters in a horror movie, or peek into the box in which your present is hidden. Rabbits may peek out from under the deck or mushrooms peek through the fallen leaves. Replace this word with peep, to check that you're using the correct one.

Before you stomp out in a fit of pique, consider the last homophone in this set. To pique your interest, I'll keep inventing examples without defining the word directly. It would pique my pride if you chose to leave now, after all. Please note that you spell none of these with an accent of any sort over the final “e”. Such decoration changes the word to a much wider term relating to fabric, gloves, ballet, and inlay.

Should you replace pique with prick or poke, your sentence will still be correct (if perhaps risqué) if you've used the right word. You could also consider catch or wound, but those don't start with “p” and thus I have disallowed them for today's post.

Thanks for taking a peek into the peak of my recent pique. Clearly, it's prodded me to action.