It’s easy to see how the misspelling sneak peak sneaks past spelling tools into your inbox or social media feed. Influencers, retailers, and promoters who seek to pique your interest can’t seem to resist matching sight to sound when offering a sneak peek, or advance look, at a new series, product, or album. Typing or writing sneak may prime the brain to follow it with peak—a word that a spelling checker might not flag. Peak is spelled correctly, as long as peak is the word you mean. But it’s the wrong word for this job.
Peek, peak, and pique are homophones, “two or more words pronounced alike but different in meaning or derivation or spelling” (“Homophone”). Of the three words, the only one Merriam-Webster defines as “a furtive look” or “a brief look”—a look you might sneak—is peek (“Peek, N.”).
I paged quickly through the calendar to get a peek at the new season’s offerings before I mailed copies to our subscribers.
Even older than the noun form is the verb peek, from the Middle English piken (“Peek, V.”). According to Merriam-Webster, piken may also be the source of peep, “to peer through or as if through a crevice” or “to look cautiously or slyly” (“Peep”). Either peek or peep could be used in a sentence like the following:
I opened the door of the toaster oven for just a moment to peek at the baking cookies.
I opened the door of the toaster oven for just a moment to peep at the baking cookies.
Not to put too fine a point on it, peak is not derived from piken and does not refer to a quick look. A peak is a high point, whether physical or metaphorical (“Peak, N.”). For example,
The snow on the peak melted and ran down to feed the clear mountain streams.
I used an electric mixer to whip the egg whites into stiff peaks.
At the peak of its popularity, the restaurant was fully booked six months in advance.
Peak can also be used as a verb:
The demand for pumpkin spice lattes usually peaks in October.
The French-derived pique also evokes a sharp point. Merriam-Webster explains that the verb piquer in French means “to prick” and refers readers to the definition for pike, a medieval spear (“Pique”). Accordingly, to pique is to excite, provoke, or irritate:
Advertisers surely aren’t aiming to pique shoppers by filling their inboxes with misspelled messages.
It’s never a bad idea to sneak a peek at a dictionary to make sure the word you’ve chosen means what you intend. Or, in this case, another rhyme may help you remember that peek has to do with sight and peak has to do with height. That’s why sneak peak fails at reason despite its rhyme; the sound and sense you seek are in sneak peek.
“Homophone, N.” Merriam Webster Unabridged, 2023, unabridged.merriam-webster.com/collegiate/homophone.
“Peak, N.” Merriam Webster Unabridged, 2023, unabridged.merriam-webster.com/collegiate/peak.
“Peek, N.” Merriam Webster Unabridged, 2023, unabridged.merriam-webster.com/collegiate/peek.
“Peek, V.” Merriam Webster Unabridged, 2023, unabridged.merriam-webster.com/collegiate/peek.
“Peep,” V. Merriam Webster Unabridged, 2023, unabridged.merriam-webster.com/unabridged/peep.
“Pique, V.” Merriam Webster Unabridged, 2023, unabridged.merriam-webster.com/collegiate/pique.
“Sneak peek.” N. Merriam Webster Unabridged, 2023, unabridged.merriam-webster.com/collegiate/sneak%20peek.
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