Mr. Language Man

Mr. Language Man

Mr. Language Man

I’m neither an English major nor an accomplished writer, but that minor lack of qualifications won’t keep me from my self-appointed role of Mr. Language Man.

I read a lot of blogs and news items on the web. I subscribe to several magazines and even a couple of newspapers. (Gasp! How archaic!) I am always disappointed when the authors/writers/editors, even the professionals (of which there are fewer and fewer), can’t be bothered to understand the basic tool of their trade – language.

My most recent vexation – and I have many, but let’s keep our focus – is peek vs. peak vs. pique. Three perfectly good words, all of which mean different things but sound the same (that’s a three-way homophone). For good measure, there is piqué, which looks similar to pique but is pronounced differently (pee-KAY). I can’t tell you how often in the past week I have seen the three words misused, but whenever I peek at one of these manglings, my pique reaches a peak. Thus this post from Mr. Language Man.


Let's peek!

peek (verb):

– To glance quickly.
– To look or peer furtively, as from a place of concealment.
– To be only partially visible, as if peering or emerging from hiding: Tiny crocuses peeked through the snow.

peek (noun):

– A brief or furtive look.

peak (noun):


Pike's Peak

– A tapering, projecting point; a pointed extremity: the peak of a cap; the peak of a roof.
– The pointed summit of a mountain.
– The mountain itself.
– The point of a beard.
– A widow’s peak.
– The point of greatest development, value, or intensity: a novel written at the peak of the writer’s career.
– Physics The highest value attained by a varying quantity: a peak in current.
–  The narrow portion of a ship’s hull at the bow or stern.
– The upper after corner of a fore-and-aft sail.
– The outermost end of a gaff.

peak (verb):


Peak production

– To raise (a gaff) above the horizontal.
– To bring to a maximum of development, value, or intensity.
– To be formed into a peak or peaks: Beat the egg whites until they peak.
– To achieve a maximum of development, value, or intensity: Sales tend to peak just before the holidays.

peak (adjective):

– Approaching or constituting the maximum: working at peak efficiency.

pique (noun):

interesting– A state of vexation caused by a perceived slight or indignity; a feeling of wounded pride.

pique (verb):

– To cause to feel resentment or indignation.
– To provoke; arouse: The portrait piqued her curiosity.
– To pride (oneself): He piqued himself on his stylish attire.

And the other piqué (noun):


Piqué knit fabric

– A tightly woven fabric with various raised patterns, produced especially by a double warp.

So, there you have everything you ever wanted to know about peek/peak/pique/piqué but were afraid to ask. If you are ever afraid to ask, by the way, you might try just looking stuff up:

The Elements of Style (Strunk & White)

Bryson’s Dictionary for Writers and Editors (Bill Bryson) 

Bryson’s Dictionary of Troublesome Words: A Writer’s Guide to Getting It Right (Bill Bryson) 

Grammarama (Kraken) – an online reference

Until next time, when Mr. Language Man takes on affect and effect . . . 



2 Responses to Mr. Language Man

  1. LB Hayden says:

    One small problem: in normal usage, it’s Pikes Peak. Sure, you might want to put in the apostrophe for the implied possessive (“the Peak belonging to Pike), but in this case, you’d be wrong. It’s a proper name and as such, doesn’t use an apostrophe.

  2. khannemann says:

    Per Wikipedia, my favorite resource: “During the period of exploration in Colorado, many would refer to the mountain as “Pike’s Peak,” after Zebulon Pike, the man who first documented it and attempted to climb to its summit. The attempt failed to reach the summit as it was made during the winter months. The snow drifts were reported chest high at the time of the climb.
    Edwin James was successful to reach the summit in his attempt during a summer month’s attempt. Later, some suggested “James’ Peak,” after Edwin James, the first man who successfully climbed to the summit. However, in this area there was another “James’ Peak” which made identification of the peak a confusing issue. The name went back and forth until it was settled with a uniquely identifiable name.
    Originally the peak was called “Pike’s Peak”, but in 1891, the newly-formed US Board on Geographic Names recommended against the use of apostrophes in names, so officially the name of the peak does not include an apostrophe. In addition, in 1978 the Colorado state legislature passed a law mandating the use of “Pikes Peak” only. Even so, the old name is often seen.”

    As I recall, being almost that old, this is the same bunch who insisted that Pittsburgh become Pittsburg. So it has nothing to do with it being a proper name.

    I acknowledge that things happen to English in normal usage – otherwise it wouldn’t be as expressive and inclusive as it is – but still.

    Thanks for the comment! I’ll have to read some of your work!

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