Peak vs. Peek (vs. Pique)

Q: For some reason I confuse “peak” and “peek” all the time. Is there a simple way to help differentiate the two so I can get it correct in the future? –Brian K.

A: OK, so I’m not sure if you noticed but I submitted this question myself. All writers have some kind of Achilles’ Heel, and confusing “peak” and “peek” is mine. Whether I’m writing a column, newsletter or tweet, I undoubtedly will choose the wrong word. It’s very embarrassing—almost as embarrassing as accidentally transposing letters in my name and signing e-mails “Brain.”

And it takes a certain talent to misspell your own name.

To get these words right, I first grabbed my handy dictionary to define the terms. “Peak” (with an A) has several meanings depending on its form. The most common uses include peak as a noun, which means “a high point,” and as a verb, which means “to reach a high point.” We climbed to the peak of the mountain. Ken Griffey, Jr.’s baseball skills peaked in the late ’90s.

“Peek” (with a double E) means to take a brief look or catch a glimpse. I peeked at my ex-girlfriend’s Facebook page to see if she was married. If you peek in my cube you may notice that I’m not wearing pants.

While I understand the difference between the words, I’ve been looking for a mnemonic device to keep them straight for quite some time. Our intern, Jennifer Benner, provided one that not only solved this problem for me but is also easy to remember: The peak of a mountain is shaped like an A. But to peek you need your eyes, which has two Es.

And finally, if you confuse “pique” with the other two, remember that it’s a French word meaning “to stimulate.” My interest was piqued—is he really not wearing pants at work?

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5 thoughts on “Peak vs. Peek (vs. Pique)

  1. Denise Jordan Lane

    You have found the word that I, too, find myself checking the dictionary with its every use. I love the mnemonic device for it. Please thank your intern for that. Funny about your name. I can imagine typing that would happen more than occasionally. I have to be careful when typing my name too fast as well. Leaving out an "i" makes me Dense!

  2. Mary

    You may also wish to add "heel" and "heal" to your list of puzzles. It’s not an "Achilles Heal" as you wrote it here, it’s an "Achilles’ Heel". Achilles’ mum held him by the heel to dip him in the Styx river. Because the powerful water didn’t touch his heel, it remained his vulnerable spot.

    If that’s your worst vulnerability, kudos! I like the idea that your name misspelled is Brain – lucky!

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