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We are in the midst of a family disagreement about whether the correct phrase is

to exact revenge

or

to exact vengeance.

We could use a definitive answer (if one exists) or, at least, your guidance/best guess as to which one is preferred.

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We ask that you do research before asking for expert help, and include your prior research in the question. Thanks. –  MετάEd Jun 14 '13 at 1:54
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@MετάEd: I'm happy to accept that consulting NGrams, etc., isn't required before asking. Googling exact revenge exact vengeance doesn't produce anything obvious, and I don't see dictionaries helping much. If you closevoted, I think that was a bit ott. –  FumbleFingers Jun 14 '13 at 2:09
    
@FumbleFingers Might want to take that to chat or meta. Comments are for offering constructive suggestions to the OP. –  MετάEd Jun 14 '13 at 2:37
    
@MετάEd: Surprisingly, I've never done this before, but hopefully there it is. If not, maybe this is it –  FumbleFingers Jun 14 '13 at 2:44
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1 Answer

There is no "definitive answer". Both forms exist...

enter image description here

And as you can see, until a generation ago most people would have said exact vengeance was the "correct" version. But (particularly in the US), the pendulum has swung massively the other way. Rather than toss a coin though, I suggest go with today's usage rather than stay stuck in the past.


I will just acknowledge StoneyB's point that strictly speaking you normally exact things like retribution (because exact means compel to be given, take forcibly). But he will have his revenge implies if you can have it, you can take/get it (from someone). By force, if need be.

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Curses! You beat me! Foiled! But I shall have my revenge, which will be inflicted, not exacted! –  StoneyB Jun 14 '13 at 1:55
    
And how do you get that dramatic horizontal compression? –  StoneyB Jun 14 '13 at 1:58
    
@StoneyB: I'm not throwing away all the text I just wrote, so... By that argument, people shouldn't say I will have my revenge. I think there's a limit to how precisely you can pin down valid usage. And I firmly believe there's an alternate universe identical to this one in every respect except that the Anglophones in that universe use the word qwerty for the flower we call a rose (their "versions of us" have exactly the same noses and sense of smell as we do, obviously! :) –  FumbleFingers Jun 14 '13 at 2:02
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Thanks. Somehow you get a different display than I do. Stat qwerty pristina nomine, nomina nuda tenemus. –  StoneyB Jun 14 '13 at 2:18
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What grammarians call a left-handed complement. –  StoneyB Jun 14 '13 at 2:59
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