Reck - wreck

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Reck and wreck form one of the sets of homophones listed by the then Poet Laureate Robert Bridges.
(For more, see Bridges homophones). AWE has a category listing our articles on each of these.

  • Reck, now rather a rare word, can be a verb or, less commonly, a noun. Both are now comparatively obsolete
    • The verb 'to reck' means 'to think [about]', 'to be troubled by', 'to care [that]'. The archaic "What reck I?" is the same as the more current 'What do I care?'.
    • The noun, usually used with some negative qualification, is the equivalent: "He took little reck of the consequences of his lie" means 'He had no consideration for the consequences', 'he was little bothered by the thought of the consequences.'
  • Wreck is common both as noun and verb.
    • The noun '[a] wreck' originally denoted things that were cast ashore [on tidal coasts] from damaged or destroyed vessels. It was later used as well to mean such a vessel, which had earlier been called a shipwreck: one that had run aground, struck rocks or reefs or other obstacles, or been in some way damaged beyond control. In US English, car crashes and railway (railroad) accidents are commonly named 'wrecks'.
      • The extension 'a pile of confused and disorderly fragments', originally "a drifted or tossed-up mass" (OED, 1928; meaning 5.) is not common nowadays, except in the spelling wrack, where it is used for seaweed such as bladderwrack..
    • The verb 'to wreck' basically meant, after the original 'cast onto the shore' became obsolete, "to reduce a [seaworthy] vessel to the condition of a wreck".
      • It has many figurative meanings: a business can be 'wrecked' by unpaid creditors; a building (or peace and quiet) may be 'wrecked' by an unauthorized party; a person's health may be wrecked by addiction; , etc. In modern slang, the participial adjective wrecked means 'intoxicated' - the etymology indicates 'rendered incapable'.
Two notable poems have the word 'wreck' in their titles: The Wreck of the Deutschland (written 1875-6, published 1918) by Gerard Manley Hopkins, and The Wreck of the Hesperus (1839, publ. 1840) by Henry Wadsorth Longfellow.