Peruse is a verb I’ve rarely heard or seen used correctly. It means to read carefully with attention to detail. However it is typically used as if it means “browse” or “skim”. I speculate that this is because its sound when pronounced makes it sound like an activity done leisurely.
I know language evolves, and the meanings of words change. In this case, however, I think we should resist changing the meaning of peruse:
- I believe on balance changing the meaning of words should be resisted unless there is a compelling need to do so.
- There are already adequate words which convey the meaning for which peruse is misused, e.g. skim and browse.
- Peruse is the only word which conveys its meaning. There are phrases which convey its meaning but no other single word.
- The original meaning of peruse is the complete opposite of the meaning it is thought to have in its misuse. Thus when one hears, “I perused the book”, the two possible meanings are 180 degrees opposite each other. I believe this is unlike other evolutions of word meanings which are typically a less abrupt change from the original meaning, e.g. gay.