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Alternative forms[edit]


From Middle English havok, havyk, from Old French havok in the phrase crier havok (cry havoc) a signal to soldiers to seize plunder, from Old French crier (cry out, shout) + havot (pillaging, looting), of obscure origin. Probably from a derivative of Old French *haf, hef (hook), from Frankish *haf, *habbjā, *happjā (pruning-hook, scythe), derived from Proto-Germanic *habjaną (to take up, lift), related to Old French havee (handful), Old French havet (pruning-hook), Old High German habba, heppa (pruning-hook, scythe), modern German Hippe (billhook). If so, then also related to English heave and doublet of hatchet.



havoc (usually uncountable, plural havocs)

  1. Widespread devastation and destruction.
    • 1712 (date written), [Joseph] Addison, Cato, a Tragedy. [], London: [] J[acob] Tonson, [], published 1713, →OCLC, Act I, scene i, page 1:
      Ye gods, what havoc does ambition make / Among your works!
    • 1918, Edgar Rice Burroughs, The People that Time Forgot[1], HTML edition, The Gutenberg Project, published 2008:
      But when I had come to that part of the city which I judged to have contained the relics I sought I found havoc that had been wrought there even greater than elsewhere.
  2. Mayhem.

Usage notes[edit]

The noun havoc is most often used in the set phrase wreak havoc.[1]

Derived terms[edit]



havoc (third-person singular simple present havocs, present participle havocking, simple past and past participle havocked)

  1. To pillage.
  2. To cause havoc.

Usage notes[edit]

As with other verbs ending in vowel + -c, the gerund-participle is sometimes spelled havocing, and the preterite and past participle is sometimes spelled havoced; for citations using these spellings, see their respective entries. However, the spellings havocking and havocked are far more common. Compare panic, picnic.




  1. A cry in war as the signal for indiscriminate slaughter.


  1. ^ Old Hungarian Goulash?, The Grammarphobia Blog, October 31, 2008