Is It “Peek,” “Peak,” or “Pique?”

Homophones are a bane to authors, journalists and students. Should a perceptive editor or teacher catch an incorrect word, consequences can range from slight embarrassment to financial loss. Among the most nettlesome homophones are “peek,” “peak” and “pique.” Faulty usage will, of course, completely change the meaning of a sentence. Remembering the difference is crucial.

The word “peek” can be either a noun or verb. It refers to a quick and discreet look, often from an unobtrusive vantage point. For example, a noun may be used as “I will take a peek at the audience from behind the curtain.” In the same manner, a verb will be used like this: “She peeks at the audience from behind the curtain.”

“Peak,” on the other hand, is used as a noun exclusively. It refers to the highest point of a mountain or the pointed cap of a ridge. It can also signify the maximal level of other phenomena, as well. A reporter might tell readers that a re-elected politician reached the peak of popularity. Likewise, it can be said that a TV program is at its peak when it achieves its highest ratings.

Also both a noun and verb, “pique” is a word that stands for annoyance, irritation or resentment. “After the insult, he stormed out of the meeting in a fit of pique.” This represents the word as a noun. Used in action, it appears like this: “Sally piqued Martha with rudeness and ingratitude.” The verb here means to cause irritation.

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