Exploring Homophones: Peek, Peak, and Pique

Dec 13, 2021 | Posted by Jennifer

Some people collect stamps. Others search out rocks or spoons. I love to collect homophones. First off they’re free for the scooping up. Secondly they make me feel smarter. Finally they don’t need dusting, nor do they clutter up my shelves. Those are massive wins in my view! When I run across a homophone, I write it down in my planner.

Many people are familiar with homophones. Some of the most common ones are its/it’s and there/they’re/their. Past blog posts have explored other homophones, including the following:

I need to credit today’s collection of homophones to an unnamed student of mine who crafted a sentence similar to this: The idea peaked his interest.

My student underlined peaked as his strong verb, and it is quite a strong one. The only problem with it is that it’s misspelled. So let’s take a look at these three words, peek, peak, and pique, to discover more about each one and determine the correct spelling for the sentence.

All three of these words have the long-e sound, but let’s start with peek because <ee> is the most common way to spell that sound when it comes in the middle of a syllable. Peek can be either a noun or an intransitive verb. It’s the thing we do when we try to capture a quick glimpse of something. It is also an action that may be done in a sneaky manner. In all cases it has something to do with seeing, which may help keep some of the confusion at bay: peek = see. Here are a few examples of the word being used in a sentence:

I may peek to see what baking supplies I have on hand before I head to the grocery store later this afternoon (peek used as a verb).

My kids always like to have a peek at their gifts under the Christmas tree (peek used as a noun).

The next word, peak, uses a less common spelling construction for the long-e sound: <ea>. Just as peek can fill a variety of grammatical functions, so can peak. In all cases it refers in some way to reaching the maximum capacity. You can ascend to the top of a mountain peak (noun), or you can peak (verb) in your career when you are forty. It can even be used as an adjective: My son was at his peak performance as a runner when he was in high school.

Finally we arrive at the last spelling and the one that my student missed in his sentence: pique. Just a quick peek at this spelling, and I can tell that this word arrived to English by way of French. I know this because the <ique> is pronounced /eek/, a uniquely French spelling construction for those sounds. Interestingly, this word can function as a noun and a verb. Essentially the word means “anger” or “irritation” regardless of whether it’s used as a noun or a verb although it can also convey the sense of arousing interest when it’s used as a verb. If my cat were to jump up on the counter and topple my favorite vase and break it, I would be in quite a pique, and poor pussycat would be likely to be put outside for a while. The idea my student had when he wrote “The idea peaked his interest” is that of arousing interest. What he meant to say was this: The idea piqued (stimulated) his interest.

Did this blog post pique your interest in collecting homophones? If it did, I hope you take the time to peek into the pages of a dictionary to discover some other interesting homophones. It just might be the peak point of your day!

Jennifer Mauser has always loved reading and writing and received a B.A. in English from the University of Kansas in 1991. Once she and her husband had children, they decided to homeschool, and she put all her training to use in the home. In addition to homeschooling her children, Jennifer teaches IEW classes out of her home, coaches budding writers via email, and tutors students who struggle with dyslexia.

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