Thursday, November 18, 2010

No Peaking!

"You keep using that word. I do not think it means what you think it means." – Inigo Montoya in The Princess Bride
Has something ever piqued your curiosity?  Have you ever peeked inside a box you weren't supposed to open?  Or have you simply reached the peak of your patience?

Okay, that was pretty much a bunch of gibberish, but hopefully it illustrates some of the ways that "pique," "peak," and "peek" are used.  These words are today's topic because, once again, I encountered the phrase – nay, the incorrect phrase! – "to peak one's curiosity" and it left me in a fit of pique.

Confused?  I promise, it will get better.  Maybe.

Incorrect:  My curiosity was peaked by the note in my lunch bag.
Correct:  Her sultry voice piqued his interest.

As a verb, "pique" means to arouse interest or to excite.  "Peak" (as a verb) means to reach a limit or maximum, such as, "He peaked in his third season as a pro."

Incorrect:  She left in a fit of peak.
Correct:  His pique over the demotion lasted for months.

The noun "pique" means resentment, or as www.merriam-webster.com puts it, "a transient feeling of wounded vanity."  (I really like that definition!)

Incorrect:  She peaked inside the foil-wrapped box.
Correct:  Sammy's pet mouse peeked out of its little house.

I haven't seen this misuse very often, but I have seen it. "Peek" means to take a quick look.  "Peak" does not.

And last, but not least, the one that I was certain I knew until I researched it:

      Incorrect:  The elderly man looked pekid.
      Correct:  The doctor noted that the patient appeared peaked.

Until last week, I would have sworn on a stack of dictionaries that this usage was spelled "pekid" because that's how it's pronounced.  Wrong!  The correct word is "peaked" (pronounced 'peek-id' or 'peek-ed'), meaning wan or pale.

Who knew?

There's more to cover in the "peak," "pique" and "peek" realm, but I won't bore you here.  Instead, take a minute to peruse a dictionary and see if that word really means what you think it means.

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