Luke Taylor

Grammar Grater®

with Luke Taylor

Episode 100: Pique-a-boo

Recently, the Grammar Grater podcast had the privilege of visiting the American Copy Editors Society (ACES) national conference in Minneapolis. Christine Steele, a Grammar Grater listener from Los Angeles, Calif., is a member of ACES and she graciously invited us to attend, and it was a great experience. In this and in future episodes, we'll be featuring clips from some of our conversations with conference attendees. This week, we're drawing from a conversation we had with Jim Thomsen, an editor from the Kitsap Sun in Bremerton, Washington.

"I've been really noticing a lot of homonym errors," Thomsen tells us. "People don't know the difference between P-E-A-K, P-E-E-K and P-I-Q-U-E."

Using the Oxford Dictionary of Current English and Webster's New World College Dictionary, we had a look at each of these words.

First, we'll investigate peak. As a noun, a peak is the top of a mountain, a stiff brim at the front of a cap, or the point of highest activity, achievement or intensity. For example:

The hikers reached the peak of Mount Rainier in the early afternoon. It was the peak of their visit to Seattle.

Peak can also be a verb, meaning to reach a highest point or maximum. For instance:

The marathoner peaked at about mile 21.

There's also an adjective, peaky, which means pale due to illness. It's heard in contexts such as:

You're looking a bit peaky. Are you feeling all right?

Moving on, the word peek is a verb that means to look quickly or secretly. Peek can also be a noun, referring to an instance of peeking.

I peeked at the new magazine issue before it went to press. (verb)
I had a peek at the new magazine before it went to press. (noun)

The last variation is pique. As a noun, pique means resentment at being slighted or disdained; ruffled pride. It can also mean a fit of displeasure. But probably the most common use of pique is as a verb, meaning to stimulate or provoke, particularly with respect to one's curiosity or interest. Here are some examples of pique being used in this way:

When I heard about the new museum exhibit, my interest was piqued.
Any mystery novel tends to pique my interest.
The colorful toy piqued the toddler's curiosity.

As Jim Thomsen explains, it's quite common to accidentally use peak instead of pique when describing something that arouses one's interest. As an editor, Thomsen occasionally reminds writers of this distinction. "Usually I just send out a little e-mail blast to everybody containing the definitions of each word and ask them to just keep that in mind," he says. "Most people generally don't make the same mistake twice."

Sources: Oxford Dictionary of Current English, Webster's New World College Dictionary

Music from this episode: "Peek-A-Boo" by Siouxsie and the Banshees; "Dance of the Dream Man" by Angelo Badalamenti from the Twin Peaks soundtrack

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