Forms: ME havok, ME hauoke, haue ok, 15–16 havocke, 15–18 havock, 15– havoc.
Etymology: < Anglo-Norman havok, altered in some way from Old French havot (c1150 in Du Cange, havo), used in same sense, especially in phrase crier havot. Probably of Germanic origin.
1. In the phrase cry havoc, orig. to give to an army the order havoc!, as the signal for the seizure of spoil, and so of general spoliation or pillage. In later use (usually after Shakespeare) fig., and associated with sense 2.
[1385 Ord. War Rich. II in Black Bk. Admiralty (Rolls) I. 455 Item, qe nul soit si hardy de crier havok sur peine davoir la test coupe.
1405 Abp. Scrope in Historians Ch. York (Rolls) II. 296 Idem dominus Henricus..bona regia ubicunque fuerant inventa vastavit, et, clamando havok, fideles homines, tam spirituales quam temporales, quosdam spoliavit.]
1419 Ord. War Hen. V in Black Bk. Admiralty (Rolls) I. 462 That noman be so hardy to crye havok upon peyn that he that is founde begynner to dye therfore.
c1450 Jacob’s Well (1900) 207 & for his euylle dedys his godys be cryed be þe kyng ‘haue ok’.
c1525 in Grose Hist. Eng. Army (1801) I. 194 Likewise be all manner of beasts, when they be brought into the field and cried havoke, then every man to take his part.
1604 Shakespeare Hamlet v. ii. 318 This quarry cries on hauock.
a1616 Shakespeare Julius Caesar (1623) iii. i. 276 Cæsars Spirit..Shall..with a Monarkes voyce, Cry hauocke, and let slip the Dogges of Warre.
1858 H. T. Buckle Hist. Civilisation Eng. (1869) II. i. 76 That bold and sceptical spirit which cried havoc to the prejudices and superstitions of men.
2. Devastation, destruction; esp. in phr. to make havoc , to play havoc (freq. const. with), in which the earlier sense of spoliation or plunder has gradually passed into that of destructive devastation. Also in weakened sense: confusion and disorder, disarray. The phrases to work havoc and to create havoc are also common.
1480 Caxton Chron. Eng. ccxxxix. 265 They..slowe al alyens and despoilled al hir goodes and made hauoke.
1564 T. Becon New Catech. in Catech. & Other Pieces (1844) 92 Whole Jewry came to havoc, and finally both destruction and desolation.
1576 A. Fleming tr. Thrasibulus in Panoplie Epist. 202 Make havock of them one with another.
1610 Bible (Douay) II. Ecclus. xxxvi. Comm., By discord al things goe to havocke.
1635 J. Swan Speculum Mundi iv. §2. 72 What havock the floud had made.
1745 P. Thomas True Jrnl. Voy. South-Seas 22 The Scurvy..made a most dreadful Havock among us.
1812 M. E. Bicknell Let. 28 Oct. in J. Constable Corr. (1964) II. 91 You perfectly well know, what terrible havoc it [sc. meeting often] makes with your time.
1868 Tennyson Lucretius 22 The wicked broth Confused the chemic labour of the blood..Made havock among those tender cells.
1871 E. A. Freeman Hist. Norman Conquest IV. xviii. 289 The work of William at this time was simple unmitigated havoc.
1900 J. Morley Cromwell i. 3 The thirst after broad classifications works havoc with truth.
1908 E. J. Banfield Confessions of Beachcomber i. iv. 129 Terrestrial storms work as much if not greater havoc in the shallow places of the sea as on the land.
1910 G. D. Abraham Mountain Adv. vi. 115 The hot sun, reflected off the snow, played havoc with his complexion.
1934 G. G. Coulton H. W. Fowler 156 He..displayed..anxiety about the havoc made in the projected festivities.
1949 Times Lit. Suppl. 4 Nov. 715/2 History has played havoc with their hopes.
1961 J. E. Mansion Harrap’s Fr. & Eng. Dict. 705/2 The storm..played havoc with the crops.
1961 Webster’s 3rd New Internat. Dict. Eng. Lang. (at cited word), Several small children can create havoc in a house.
1964 Times 5 Sept. 9/5 Surely one can make up one’s mind as to which [political party] would create less havoc if they came to power.
1965 ‘A. Nicol’ Truly Married Woman 24, I have created enough havoc in one afternoon as it is.
1966 B. Kimenye Kalasanda Revisited 86 The fine, dust-like substance enveloped him in a cloud which played havoc with the delicate membranes of his eyes and nose.
1969 Times 25 Mar. 16/1 The noise and clatter of high-revving engines can play havoc with a driver’s nerves.
1971 B. Patten Irrelevant Song 32 This creature singled out creates Havoc with intelligence.