Piqued, Peaked, Peeked, Piquant, Picante, and Pungent

Updated on December 9, 2015

Laila Peak

Laila Peak (Hushe Valley), 6096 m, (Gondogoro Glacier Area, Central Karakoram, Pakistan)
Laila Peak (Hushe Valley), 6096 m, (Gondogoro Glacier Area, Central Karakoram, Pakistan) | Source

Some of the easiest typos to make are homophones. Especially if you think you can almost make sense of them. Something may have "peaked" your interest you think because your interest level has gone up.

Or maybe it only "peeked" your interest because you imagine you'd take a brief look at something, maybe from around a corner or between your fingers.

In fact, a mistaken understanding of how a word is spelled or what spelling to use can even influence how, when, and why you use the word in your writing.

But don't fret if you're not sure whether something peaked, piqued, or peeked. Or you're told you look a little peaked, pekid, peakèd or piqued? And is it offensive if a guest finds your fresh made soup piquant or just when it's pungent?

Peaked hats

General José Alberto Loureiro dos Santos in uniform, including a peaked cap
General José Alberto Loureiro dos Santos in uniform, including a peaked cap | Source
A so-called "peaked" wizard's cap, although it is clearly conical.
A so-called "peaked" wizard's cap, although it is clearly conical. | Source


"Peaked" (pēkt; IPA: /piːkt/) is the easiest one to remember, and also probably the most versatile.

A peak, is a summit or acme of a mountain, and a lot of peaks around the world are named. For instance referring to the name of the mountain might refer to even the forest or glacial and rocky foothills at the base, but the peak is only the highest point itself.

Thus, "peaked" as an adjective generally means something with a peak, such as a hat. Peaked hats are commonly associated with military and police dress uniforms, especially in the twentieth century. Due to this, there is a connotation among some of peaked hats having an association with fascism, but this is merely incidental to their use in military and police uniforms.

A lot of people may mistakenly refer to the stereotypical wizard hat as being "peaked". This is a mistake. While the hat itself is shaped like a mountain's peak in silhouette, the proper name is "cone" or "conical" hate. And the phrase "peaked hat" was maybe familiar to someone who did not know what they looked like. A similar problem occurs when people call a "horseshoe moustache" the more popular phrase "handlebar moustache" despite them looking nothing alike.

In any event, saying, "You look peaked" will only be confusing if taken literally, but if they mishear you or you misspeak and say "You look like you've peaked" - that's not so innocuous.

To have peaked is to say, the highlight of your life or career is behind you. This is based on a metaphorical imagining of a line where good things are "up" or "high" and the bad things "low", similar to an EKG, stock market report or audio wave form chart.

It is a neutral comment to say a musical piece has peaked, as the crescendo is something expected and desired and it's simply objective to report it has passed.

This meaning (for a hat, a musical composition, a verb for someone who has ascended a mountain, or, yes... one's career) is exclusively one-syllable. But not every instance of a one syllable pronunciation refers to a meaning associated with this spelling.


"Piqued" (pēkt; IPA: /piːkt/) an exact homophone for "peaked", this is much less common as a word, but much more commonly used incorrectly.

Part of the problem is that it has two completely different meanings.

The first is almost always used in quasi-set lexical chunks that are more familiar than the word by itself, i.e. "piqued my interest/curiosity". In this sense it means: stimulate, arouse, kindle, whet, excite.

The second usage means a mild irritation, something that has "piqued my pride/honor" has not interested or roused you, but it it has vexed, irked, nettled, bothered, or annoyed you. You are not quite exasperated or infuriated, but somebody sure must have had some gall to say or do that to you! Oh, look, you already forgot about the slight.

This one is interesting because of its "differentness", whereas pique seems French and fancy rather than the humdrum Anglo-Saxon bleakness of peak and peek, it is commonly mistaken for its homophones because someone is positive it isn't the regular old "peak" or "peek", but they aren't sure what it is instead.

Keep in mind this spelling is pretty rare and is very likely found in one of this set patterns, overwhelmingly the first one.


What's all this talk about peek being "probably be a fusion of "peep" and "keek"? One of those isn't even a word! Well...

"Keek" (kēk; IPA: /kiːk/) means a quick look, in essence: a peek or a peep, as in "She keeked from behind the door."

The words peek, keek and peep were used more or less synonymous in the 14th and 15th centuries.

In fact, English is seemingly the only Germanic language in which we don't really maintain use of this word:

German kucken ‎(“to look”), Dutch kijken ‎(“to look”), Low German kīken ‎(“to look”), Danish kikke ‎(“to look, peep”), Swedish kika ‎(“to peep, peek, keek, pry”), Icelandic kikja ‎(“to look”) and Estonian kiikama ‎(“to look, to peek”)(not a Germanic language but evidently a loanword from one).

Historical linguists have derived the word from Proto-Germanic *kīkaną ‎(“to look”) via: Middle English kyken, kiken, keken ‎(“to look, peep”), Middle Dutch kieken or Middle Low German kīken ‎(“to look, peep”), Old Saxon *kīkan ‎(“to look”), and Proto-Germanic *kīkaną ‎(“to look”).


"Peeked" (pēkt; IPA: /piːkt/) an exact homophone for "peaked" and "piqued".

You probably have known this word the longest, as more people are exposed to vocabulary for hiding from infants behind clasped hands before mountain topography or whetted appetites. At least, I assume so.

The word means to look with your eyes half closed as if through a crevice or from behind a corner, or to actually look through a crevice or from behind a corner. It can also refer to a sly look or a glimpse.

It has an interesting etymology, and is unusual in that English has maintained "peek" as well as "peer" and "peep" - both of which can be used as synonyms in some cases.

The modern spelling "peek" comes from Middle English *peken, piken ‎(meaning “to peep”), and is considered to probably be a fusion of "peep" and "keek".

"Peeked" was mainly included on this list for the frequent error found in "sneak peak" where the correct spelling of "sneak" creeps in to influence people who might otherwise know to spell it "peek".

The Other Peaked (or Peakèd)

"Peaked" (pēkʹĭd; IPA: /ˈpiːkɪd/)

This is most likely the word you were looking for when you suddenly asked yourself if you knew how to spell it.

It means "to look sick or sickly", or, if you want to be similarly archaic, it means to look "wan".

The word "peak" was used fairly commonly in the middle of the last millenium, as illustrated here in this couplet from Shakespeare's Macbeth, Act 1, Scene 3:

Weary sev'n nights nine times nine

Shall he dwindle, peak and pine.

Which basically means that "over the next eighty-one weeks he will waste away in agony" which sounds like a pretty horrible thing to do to someone, even for witches.

The word used in a past participle is often spelled "peakèd" to make sure they are not understand as accusing someone having their best behind them, merely looking like death. This spelling is meant to reflect the sometimes pronounced or at least perceived pronunciation of the word in its 15th or 16th century milieu.

This is a typical property of the "grave accent" for native English words. Often used in this manner in poetry and song lyrics to indicate that a vowel usually silent is to be pronounced, in order to fit the rhythm or meter. Most often, it is applied to a word ending with -ed. For instance, drawing a distinction between the one-syllable past tense verb "learned" /ˈlɜrnd/, and the two-syllable adjective "learnèd" /ˈlɜrn.ɨd/.


"Pekid" (pēkʹĭd; IPA: /ˈpiːkɪd/) is generally accepted as an "eye dialect" spelling meant to capture the two-syllable pronunciation. "Eye dialect" is often used when the rules of English spelling make subtle phonic changes unrecognizable, such as using "wunst" because readers would never get "oncet".

Over time "pekid" has found itself used in increasingly formal areas:

  • 1892, Bill Arp, The farm and the fireside: sketches of domestic life in war and peace, page 87:

Don't whip Ralph while I'm gone — the poor boy aint well — he looks right pekid.

  • 1966, Kenneth Rexroth, An autobiographical novel:

Like everybody who had the flu in those days, I was pretty run-down and pekid.

  • 1991 February 2, Sam Smith, “Bulls close out Mavericks after getting scare”, Chicago Tribune:

But they looked a little pekid before finally pulling out a 101-90 victory Friday night over the Dallas Mavericks.

  • 2004, Verne Patten, Somewhere Every Day, page 349:

“Matter with yer buddy there?” Goldstein asked suddenly. “He's lookin' a li'l pekid.” “Ain't used to workin' this hard, an' ain't eatin' right neither."

"Picante" (ˈpēkäntay; IPA: /pi.ˈkɐn.te/)

Picante is a Spanish word that comes from the same Latin root as the French-origin "piquant" we use in English.

However, it is much more restricted. It refers almost always to hot and spicy food, or hot and spicy behavior which may be a little risqué.

La comida mexicana es muy picante.

Watching that movie with the whole family got a little picante.


While we're on the subject of words beginning with "piqu-", here's a helpful reminder about "piquant" (ˈpēkənt or ˈpēkänt; IPA: /ˈpiː.kənt/ or /ˈpiː.ˌkɑːnt/).

This adjective means anything with a sharp taste -- usually means pleasant and may or may not mean something that is hot, spicy, peppery, or tangy.

From this it has metaphoricaly come to include anything appetizing, even if not to the appetite, but an idea that is stimulating or intriguing.

A piquant twist on roast chicken.

A piquant suggestion on how you can make roast chicken.


"Pungent" (pŭnjənt; IPA: /ˈpʌndʒənt/), on the hand, is also often used for tastes as well as metaphoric commentary.

It differs from piquant in that pungent doesn't mean the taste is sharp, but that the taste is sharply strong. While ostensibly neutral, this word is often read as negative.

This negative quality has transposed itself on the word's original meaning referring to tastes and smells by its use meaning acerbic, sardonic or biting, as in a critic's review.

So, when referring to something as pungent, be aware you may be saying it is caustic, but if you are explicitly referring to a smell or taste, it is just strong (though you may only be technically correct, not responsible for hurt feelings).


Submit a Comment
  • profile image


    2 years ago

    "...[D]espite them looking nothing alike"

    should be "their looking alike."


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