17 March 2008

Peruse this post, nary a cursory glance

In my penchant for pedantry, I find great delight in learning of words and phrases which are often misused. One of my favorite segments from National Public Radio (WNYC) is the word expert, Patricia O'Conner's, who speaks every third Wednesday on the Leonard Lopate Show.

One of the more memorable lessons was the misuse of the word "peruse," which is often taken to mean looking over something in a superficial manner. In fact, the word connotes a more detailed examination. According to Merriam-Webster.com, the definition is:
1 a: to examine or consider with attention and in detail : study
: to look over or through in a casual or cursory manner
: read; especially : to read over in an attentive or leisurely manner

Etymology: Middle English, to use up, deal with in sequence, from Latin per- thoroughly + Middle English usen to use.
Dorky linguaphiles will find more fun grammar tidbits on O'Conner website http://www.grammarphobia.com. Also, feel free to peruse this website from Princeton University for more commonly misused words and expressions.


Paul C. said...

Although I take issue with your narrow assertion that the word "peruse" singularly refers to the first half of Webster's definition (when clearly the second half refers to the more common understanding), I enjoyed reading the list that you linked from Princeton. While perusing the link (take it how you may) I came across one of my biggest pet peaves: the word "irregardless". It is difficult to explain the frustration that I experience when I hear others use the (un)word "irregardless" - more irritating still is that your blog's spell check didn't even flinch at that example of colloquial ignorance. Anyhow, I appreciated your post and felt the need to comment, if for no other reason to ensure you that someone is enjoying your blog

Steph said...

Maybe the "incorrect" definition of "peruse" made its way into Merriam-Webster since it has been misused so much that it has now changed meaning. The same could be said for "irregardless." One day it might become part of our lexicon, alongside nucular. The dynamic nature of language is so interesting!