‘Peruse’ Doesn’t Mean What Many People Think

Look CloselyToday I found out ‘peruse’ doesn’t mean what many people think it means.

It turns out, “peruse” does not mean “to skim” or “to glance through” or “read quickly” or the like, as it is often used.  It actually means quite the opposite of that, meaning “to read thoroughly or carefully” or “examine carefully at great length”.

This meaning comes from the commonly accepted origin of “peruse”, which was from the combination of the words “per” and “use”; this literally translates from the compounded Latin and French words to “use thoroughly”.  This then eventually morphed to meaning more like “survey thoroughly” and today more meaning “survey text thoroughly”.

Bonus Fact:

  • An alternate theory to the origins of peruse was presented by Webster.  He suggested that peruse came from the misreading of the old word “pervise” as “peruise”.  However, there is no direct evidence that this is the case and the more commonly accepted origin is the “per” + “use” combination as stated above.
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15 comments

  • This is EXACTLY the reason I spend time looking up words I already ( think I ) know.

    quick tip:

    major search engines have a shortcut for looking up words. Try doing a search for:

    define peruse

  • This is EXACTLY the reason I spend time looking up words I already ( think I ) know.
    +1

  • Personally, I never have thought that Peruse meant to skim lightly. Nor do I know anyone that does. Perhaps there is a difference in educational experiences?

  • i also never thought that it meant what you thought i thought it meant. maybe not so many people as you think thought this word meant what it doesn’t mean.

    • Daven Hiskey

      @rod: Depends on where you are from. I notice you are from Australia and the previous commenter was from Brazil. That would explain the difference. Might just be an American-English thing.

  • Meh. Just a question of people not bothering to find out what words mean and how to use them properly more like…

    Ranks right up there with educated people spelling NUCLEAR correctly but still pronouncing it NUKULAR. Way to go, America!

  • the language people use is their way of “using”as in “controlling”language
    to suit their desire to seem intelligent or to control others The language one uses is an outer admission of their character To peruse ones character
    is to listen to how one uses the language.——Doug Rosbury

  • I’m American, and I already knew the correct definition of peruse.

  • Just asked my educated girlfriend and she is on the same page as this site.

  • Everyone is wrong and right

    Webster Dictionary it is defined to read thoroughly.

    Cambridge Dictionary it mean to skim.

    Both are “English” Dictionaries which makes everyone wrong and right on this definition LOL.

  • whenever i face this vocabulary, my brain reads it as pursue

  • I always thought it meant skim… dang it. At least I’m not alone.

  • To peruse nowadays means to read. Plain and simple. And you can read something with great care or you can read something in a cursory manner. All are included in the meaning of perusal.

    The OED says:
    “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 or thoroughly (cf. senses 4a, 4b). However, peruse has been a broad synonym for read since the 16th cent., 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 (see quot. 1589 for an early example)…”

    Also, the etymology of a word does not determine its present meaning. Look up etymological fallacy.

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