Word: peruse

Pronunciation: pə-ROOZ

Part of Speech: verb

Definition: read (something), typically in a thorough or careful way

Source: Oxford Dictionaries


“Peruse” is an example of a word that I almost never see because it’s a formal variant of a common word. Even in the few times I have seen it, there was at least one instance in which it was being used satirically. Still, I figure it’s worth knowing, especially for stories that call for a more sophisticated level of language. Why mention that a character is simply “reading” when it’s possible to imply a little more with a different word?

To “peruse” something is to read it carefully and thoroughly. The word evidently arose in the 15th century and originally had a definition along the lines of “use up” or “wear out”. It possibly shares its origin with the Anglo-Norman French verb peruser “examine”, as both contain the Latin prefix per-, meaning “thoroughly”.

Maybe it’s more of a testament to the type of material I’m used to than anything else, but I rarely see the word “peruse” as more than just a flowery synonym for “read”. Of course, that isn’t to say it shouldn’t be taken seriously when context calls for it. After all, it doesn’t have the exact same meaning as its common counterpart, for this verb implies a specific type of reading. In addition, it can also be used to mean “examine carefully or at length”. Some writers (myself included) may feel inclined to avoid this word for fear of risking purple prose or confusing readers who think it means “glance over”, but if you like to use formal words in your writing, this is definitely a good one to know. Hopefully your audience will enjoy “perusing” your stories!

What are your thoughts on this word? Any suggestions for future “Word of the Week” featured words?

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