The word “peruse” is one of the most misused words in the English language. People commonly use the term when they mean “to scan” or “to skim” a document or other written material. Peruse actually means the opposite of that. According to the American Heritage Dictionary, Peruse means: “To read or examine, typically with great care.” The Oxford English Dictionary defines it as: “Read (something), typically in a thorough or careful way.”
Of course, the majority of people tend to use the word peruse to mean to “skim”, to “browse” or “scan.” Reflecting this change in usage, some dictionaries are including a second definition with this alternative, and opposite meaning.
Thus, I find peruse to be a very frustrating word. When I hear someone use the word peruse, or read it in print, I have no idea what the speaker or writer of that word means. On occasion I will be asked to peruse a document. I will say “what do you mean by peruse?” They will often look at me like I am stupid and then explain which of the two definitions they meant – the technically correct one or the incorrect but widely known one. For those of you who did not previously know the correct definition of peruse – welcome to peruse ambiguity hell.
This is so my world (or hell, as you say). Another set of words I am constantly questioning writers on is biweekly, bimonthly, biannually, biennially. ARGH!
In perusing this ifod, I found it insightful… know what I mean?
In an era when words like ‘evidence-based’ and ‘fetus’ are banned at the CDC by our government, I long for the seemingly tame, good old days of innocence of ‘peruse confusion’…
Good job on asking what one means when the word is used.
How do I erase this information from my brain?