Discuss word origins and meanings.
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Post by Edwin F Ashworth » Fri Jun 07, 2013 10:30 pm

I've just read someone asking about whether the word peruse has conflicting meanings. There seems to be a difference of opinion amongst various dictionary compilers. For instance, both Webster's and Collins are happy to allow the two senses:

1. to read through with thoroughness or care: to peruse a report.
2. to read in an often desultory way.


But the AHD quotes stats indicating that the skim-reading sense is not generally considered acceptable. It also mentions the use of an intermediate sense, just an unmarked read - also not generally considered acceptable.

I've seen a statement that the OED states that the word was originally a synonym for read (ie the unmarked sense), but that modern usage only considers the thorough or casual senses allowable (but both equally so).

Re: peruse

Post by Erik_Kowal » Sat Jun 08, 2013 3:20 am

Fortunately, I am unusually hard to confuse.

Re: peruse

Post by Wizard of Oz » Sun Jun 09, 2013 11:10 am

.. Ed there is only one way to sort this lot out .. go to the ultimate authority .. no I am not talking about Ken but >> tah dah >> The Urban Dictionary ..
3. peruse
One of the most overused words in modern english. Typically used by snobs trying to sound more intelligent than they really are. It simply means to review, usually with great care.
Peruse just means to review, you snob
.. there you go all sorted ..

WoZ with the word on the street
Signature: "The question is," said Alice, "whether you can make words mean so many different things."

Re: peruse

Post by Ken Greenwald » Mon Jun 10, 2013 5:22 am

Edwin, I also checked several dictionaries and, as you, found differing opinions.

And Wiz, lest you didn’t notice, the Urban Dictionary also advises you to “buy peruse mugs & shirts.” So order now while the supply lasts. (<;)

Here’s what the OXFORD ENGLISH DICTIONARY had to say:


3a) To examine in detail; to scrutinize, inspect, survey, oversee; to consider, to take heed of. Now also (influenced by sense 4c): to look over briefly or superficially; to browse. [[Note: I never heard ‘peruse’ used in any way other than in reference to reading. Also, since the examination can be done either in detail or superficially ‘peruse,’ in these senses is its own antonym – a Janus word.]]

4c) To read through or over; (generally) to read. In later use also: to browse, skim. [[With ‘through’ and ‘over’ meaning ‘completely through,’ from beginning to end (American Heritage Dictionary), this sense of ‘peruse’ also provides a Janus word.]]

The OED then goes on to discuss 4c:

“Modern dictionaries and usage guides, perhaps influenced by the word's earlier history in English, have sometimes claimed that the only ‘correct’ usage is in reference to reading closely [[‘with close attention’ – AHD]] or thoroughly. However, peruse has been a broad synonym for read since the 16th century, encompassing both careful and cursory reading; Johnson defined and used it as such. The implication of leisureliness, cursoriness, or haste is therefore not a recent development, although it is usually found in less formal contexts and is less frequent in earlier use. The specific sense of browsing or skimming emerged relatively recently, generally in ironic or humorous inversion of the formal sense of thoroughness.”

One might suppose that the Compact Oxford English Dictionary would include the ‘browse/skim’ definition (4c) as does its parent. But no. In fact, looking through several dictionaries, I found that the OED was the only one that did. Also, although the ‘examine in detail,’ definition does not appear in most dictionaries it does in both the OED and the COED. I suppose that’s so folks can do such things as peruse the Statue of Liberty. Ugh!

Ken – June 9, 2013

Re: peruse

Post by Edwin F Ashworth » Thu Jun 13, 2013 9:56 pm

I'm not going to peruse any dictionary that doesn't list all valid senses of peruse.

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