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peruse

Printable Version Pronunciation: pê-ruz Hear it!

Part of Speech: Verb, transitive

Meaning: To read and consider thoroughly.

Notes: Today's Good Word may already be a contranym, a word that is its own antonym, for many people in the US use it to mean "glance over quickly without thinking". 66% of the experts on the American Heritage Dictionary committee considers this meaning inappropriate, however, and Dr. Goodword tends to agree. It is best to keep this a monosemantic (one-meaning) word. Contranyms too often lead to perverse misunderstandings. The noun is perusal.

In Play: Remember, we are trying to avoid the new meaning for this word creeping into US usage: "Honey, I've glanced over these insurance documents but haven't had time to peruse them. Could I sign them later?" Remember, peruse means to read thoroughly: "No, officer, I must admit I haven't perused all the laws of the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania; I have only skimmed over a few."

Word History: Peruse comes from the Latin prefix per- "thoroughly, through and through" (from the preposition per "through") + usus "used", the past participle of the irregular verb uti "to use". We don't find a complete parent, such as *peruti, in Classical Latin; it only begins showing up in post-Classical Latin in Britain in the 14th century. Norman French by that time had developed peruser "to examine, interrogate", the direct origin of today's Good Word. The meaning of the French word apparently developed into "examine a book carefully" in English. (Now that you have perused today's Good Word, let's all thank Carol Ann Kopp for suggesting it.)

Dr. Goodword, alphaDictionary.com

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