Wreak havoc (and wreaked vs. wrought)

Havoc means widespread destruction. Wreak, a rare verb most common in British English, means to bring about. So to wreak havoc is to bring about widespread destruction. Havoc may reek, and it may cause a wreck, but reek havoc and wreck havoc are nonsensical phrases.

The past tense of wreak is wreaked, so the past tense of wreak havoc is wreaked havoc. Forget the old, oft-repeated myth that the past tense of wreak is wroughtWrought is an archaic past-tense form of work, and it serves as an adjective in its own right, but it has nothing to do with wreaking.

Examples

Holiday blizzards wreak havoc in central United States. [BBC]

Winter can make you go into hibernation mode and crave fatty foods, which can wreak havoc on your skin. [The Utah Statesman]

Tropical Storm Isaac has wreaked havoc on the GOP convention schedule and is expected to take aim for the Gulf coast. [Wall Street Journal]

The move comes two months after a software update wreaked havoc with payments processing for 17m accounts. [Financial Times]

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