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Meaning of “Play Havoc” phrase of Idiom, definition and synonyms use in sentence.

Play Havoc

 “That bold and skeptical spirit which cried havoc to the prejudices and superstitions of men.”

–Buckle: Hitt of Civilization.

Our modern use of the word “havoc” is in the phrase “play havoc,” or “make havoc,” by which we mean that one is engaged in ruthless destruction of a thing, generally in a figurative sense, as an iconoclast will destroy all sorts of religious beliefs and political systems.

The word “havoc came into English probably with our Norman ancestors. It is found in a 12th-century MS. (Du Cange) in the Latin form “Havo.” Though no longer in Modern French, it has been found in Old French in the phrase: “Crier Havot,” which means “to cry havoc.” Its etymology is obscure, though no doubt its original meaning was something like: “Scramble; take all you can 1” This is the sense in which it has survived in the Channel Islands, formerly Norman-French territory. At the annual gathering of “vraic,” the seaweed which farmers use for fertilization, it is customary to give a signal by crying: ” Havocq!”

When the Norsemen and other warlike tribes made their conquests, a signal was given after victory to scramble for all the spoil they could seize: in other words, to pillage. Hence the phrase: “Cry havoc!” by Mark Antony in Julius Casar; but whether the word “Havo” in this sense Was known to the Romans is uncertain.

Efforts were made in later ages to lay the foundations of a sort of Geneva Convention, by seeking to mitigate the horrors of war by limiting this terrible cry to “legitimate” ends, or by abolishing the practice; for in an Ordinance of War in the reign of Richard II occur these words (in Anglo-French): “That no one be so reckless as to cry `havok’ under penalty to have the head cut (off).” The ordinance was repeated a quarter of a century later, under Henry V, in almost identical terms, save that the penal clause says: “he that is found beginner to dye therefore.”


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