Last modified on 5 May 2008, at 01:24

Talk:peruse

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Return to "peruse" page.

I added the "perusal" noun bit.

Practically useless?Edit

The third definition (to read casually; skim) is pretty common, but accepting it as a standard definition makes this word more or less worthless. It just becomes a synonym for "read". Beyond making this talk comment, I feel powerless to do anything about it :) So, please use this word to mean "use thoroughly" as a favor to me. Silarius 17:58, 10 August 2006 (UTC)

The common meaningEdit

The existing definition of this word and the comment above seem to reflect the etymological fallacy. The "examine with care" and "read carefully" definitions are archaic (in addition to being redundant). The fact that a definition is archaic does not make it right. The meaning that is now commonly used is the primary meaning; that's what "mean" means.

In addition, I find the uselessness argument quite bizarre. Why would a word that means "use thoroughly" be more inherently useful than one that means "examine casually"? Given that people do (currently) use it to mean the latter, and generally do not use it to mean the former, it appears that it is actually useful.

I believe that this entry should be updated to list the current usage (now definition #3) as the first usage, and to mark the other two as archaic. If there are no objections, I will make this edit.

Coruscater 23 April 2008


Allow me to explain Silarius's statement. A word that has two senses which are opposite to one another has lost its meaning. It's as if "black" also meant "white". The more close to opposite two senses are, the closer to meaningless the word becomes. Thus, if someone asks me "Have you perused the document?", I may immediately need to ask them: "Do you mean read thoroughly or just look over it?" I.e., the word has lost its power to convey meaning. In fact, it has become an impediment to communication.
To mention a similar example: that "it's" is commonly used for "its" does not make it correct. Why? Because once the issue is pointed out to the user, they will correct themselves.

Your explanation of Silarius's statement makes sense, but it could equally well be applied to the old, outdated sense of peruse; if people stopped using the old sense of peruse then it's current sense would be unambiguous. Furthermore, I don't see that having two senses which are opposite to one another is necessarily any worse than any other form of ambiguity. If someone asks me "Is Bob in a garage?", I may need to ask if they mean a place to store a vehicle or a place where vehicles are repaied. However, I probably won't because someone generally would not ask that question unless there was enough shared context and background knowledge to make it clear which sense is meant.

The "it's" / "its" distinction is quite different, because that issue is purely orthographic; it does not affect spoken language. It is much more reasonable, and much more feasible to standardize writing forms than to try to impose a standardization of the meaning of a word that is inconsistent with the actual meaning in common use.

Coruscater 2 May 2008

67.169.127.166 07:40, 30 April 2008 (UTC)

Peruse does NOT mean skimEdit

There is no sense in either the unabridged OED or the very recent "Oxford American Dictionary" that means "skim". In fact the "Oxford American Dictionary" specifically has a usage note that this is mistaken.

In my experience, the sense of skim is used by people who are working at the outer envelope of their personal lexicon, or are parroting the use of someone else who has just misused the word.

The perception that "skim" is a modern sense reflects that this mistake has become more common recently, not that the word has changed meaning.

67.169.127.166 06:56, 30 April 2008 (UTC)

It should be borne in mind that Wiktionary takes a somewhat different approach to lexicography than many other dictionaries. Specifically, we aim to describe how language is actually used, not how it "should" be used. For some background on this linguistic philosophy, take a look at the Wikipedia article on Descriptive linguistics. Peruse is very often used in the sense of skim (I have spent most of my life being only aware of this sense), and so it merits inclusion in our dictionary. -Atelaes λάλει ἐμοί 07:01, 30 April 2008 (UTC)
This is the first time I have been in Wikitionary, so I am not familiar with the rules. Are you saying that a usage that is explicitly labeled as misuse in major dictionary published in 2001 is suitable for inclusion?
I understand the issue of descriptive linguistics very well; I often need to explain this very point to people. This is a different situation, more similar to using "it's" where "its" is appropriate. It doesn't make any difference how many people make the mistake, it is still a mistake -- and if alerted to the fact, the person who makes the mistake corrects it.
67.169.127.166 07:08, 30 April 2008 (UTC)
We include a great many things that most other dictionaries don't. In short, if it is in common usage, it is generally allowed (although we have specific policies which determine how this plays out at WT:CFI). We do, however, sometimes mark senses or words to note that they are considered "incorrect" by certain "authorities." The sense is already marked as informal. I'm undecided as to whether it would be appropriate to strengthen that to nonstandard. In any case, the sense should certainly stay. -Atelaes λάλει ἐμοί 07:14, 30 April 2008 (UTC)
This attitude is strange. Whereas in Wikipedia, statements that have do not have sources can be removed, what you're saying is that Wiktionary is free to contradict published sources! And without support from other published sources! I.e., personal opinion rules?
On a slightly different matter, it is not appropriate to tag existing, correct usages as "dated". To do this, one would have to prove that the word sense is no longer being used, wouldn't one?
67.169.127.166 07:20, 30 April 2008 (UTC)
Agree on the matter of "dated"; at least, these senses don't seem obviously dated to me, though I expect they are starting to fade.
Regarding sources, citations for senses on Wiktionary must be from actual use, not from secondary or tertiary authorities. If a distinct sense can be documented, appearing at least three times in durably-archived media, it belongs in Wiktionary whether it has been accepted by previous lexicographers, or not. On the other hand, when authorities have proscribed a particular usage it is also incumbent upon us to note this. I have tried to tidy the entry a bit, in line with these considerations; please feel free to expand the usage note. No doubt there is more that can be said on this matter... Perhaps there are style guides which have weighed in on this question as well? -- Visviva 08:16, 30 April 2008 (UTC)
Nicely done Visviva. -Atelaes λάλει ἐμοί 14:48, 30 April 2008 (UTC)
I disagree about "dated" (obviously, since I added the tag in the first place). You absolutely do _not_ need evidence that the word is no longer used to apply this tag. The definition of dated at http://en.wiktionary.org/wiki/Wiktionary:Obsolete_and_archaic_terms is "Still in use, but generally only by older people, and considered unfashionable or superseded, particularly by younger people." This is precisely the state of the old sense of peruse. Listing that sense as the first sense, especially without any cautions about the status of the sense, does a disservice to Wiktionary users that want to understand something that someone said or wrote, and to users who want to say or write something that other people will understand. Coruscater 2 May 2008
Well, if you can provide some evidence, feel free to add the information; but if it can't be verified in some form, it doesn't really belong here. I found a lot of modern uses of "peruse" that seemed to use this word in the "thorough reading" sense, such as [1], [2], and [3] These may all have been written by clueless old people or I may just have misconstrued them, but I'd say the burden of proof is on you. -- Visviva 01:49, 3 May 2008 (UTC)
I would argue that these texts support the idea that their authors were well aware that they were using a sense of the word that contradicted the sense that an average reader would typically expect. Otherwise, why would they explicitly modify "peruse" with "thoroughly"? If that is really the most common sense of the word in current usage, wouldn't those authors be able to use the word "peruse" without modification to convey this meaning? Coruscater 4 May 2008
That's an artifact of how I searched; in order to get this sense specifically, I searched for pages containing both "perusing" and "thoroughly", just as I searched for "peruse" and "quickly" or "briefly" to find examples for the "skim" sense. When this word occurs without such adverbs, it is often difficult to tell exactly what is meant (without A Lot of context). For example, if someone writes "I perused the contract," that could mean "I read the contract thoroughly," "I quickly skimmed over the contract," or even "I examined the contract." -- Visviva 01:24, 5 May 2008 (UTC)