When I was a copy editor at an advertising agency, reviewing professional writers' work, I experienced a-many of moments of doubt.
I must be wrong because this writer who is decades older than me surely didn't mess up, right? I can't be the only one to know about this rule, yet here is the twelfth error I see today. Is this a real grammar rule or is it my preference?
I Googled my little heart out in constant search of validation for my edits (which in turn made me a better editor and a better writer).
This process of jumping over a rainbow of language research led me to learn I was wrong (and right) about a word's definition I had thought I understood for years.
I had out my purple pen (me and my head editor were anit-red pen gals), and I was reading through some press release, some article, some advertisement.
"Peruse the operation manual..."
That cannot be right, I thought, coming upon this usage.
**EXAMPLE HAS BEEN CRAFTED IN LALA LAND. NO OPERATIONAL MANUAL WOULD USE THE WORD "PERUSE," I DON'T THINK. BUT THIS HELPS GET THE POINT ACROSS.**
I grew up thinking peruse meant "to read in a casual or leisurely way." Operational manuals will most likely be perused, but they shouldn't be.
I perused my text books. I perused that New Yorker article. I perused the baby books that told me how to care for my foal.
Well stamp my hoof if it wasn't opposite day up in the dictionary.
I dug into my Merriam-Webster and read:
1. To examine or consider with attention and in detail. To study.
I could handle being wrong. I could deal with feeling a small bit of embarrassment, wondering how often I had used the word peruse incorrectly and who had thought of me as a word-lover-wannabe. I have learned my greatest lessons from being wrong. I would not forget this new definition, no Merlin.
I continued reading the alternative definitions. Cue a mouth drop when I came upon entry No. 2: "To look over or through in a casual or cursory manner."
There had to be an error.
I chucked my physical dictionary to the ground and took to the magical internet. The internet corroborated what the book said (my how backwards that seems).
Peruse had two different and opposite meanings.
I thought surely peruse must be a word in a category of its own. My friends, there are others. There are simple words we use every day to express opposite meanings that we don't even think about (I'm speaking for myself; perhaps you are some deep word investigator who is chuckling at my language innocence).
Editrix Grammar Girl spoke (and wrote) about Janus words. Check out her post if you want to see how some words can be both black and white.
And with that, I wish you a very happy Wednesday. May you have enjoyed perusing this blog post, whatever that means to you.