Aug 18, 2017

Wordology, Peruse

Peruse has a controversial double meaning due to common misuse. Even dictionaries do not all agree on the meaning of the word.

The primary meaning for the word peruse is to read or look at carefully or thoroughly. Its original meaning is synonymous with words like examine or inspect. The new definition addressing the misuse cropped up rather recently, sometime late in the last century.

The new meaning for the word is to skim, to look through in a casual or selective manner. These definitions have one suggesting a thorough examination and the other a few simple glances.

A word with two potential, opposite meanings is called a contronym, an autoantonym, or a Janus word. Others include: “To bolt” can mean “to run away,” but it can also mean “to hold in place.” “Sanction” can mean “to approve” or “to boycott.”