Which Word Wednesday: Peruse vs. Skim

By September 29, 2010 language 7 Comments

Do you have favorite words? My guess is you do. Each of us has a preferred vocabulary storehouse from which we draw to think, speak, and write.

My vocabulary storehouse holds some words simply because of how they sound rolling off the tongue. These are the words I use generously—words like quirky, glisten, gladsome, and paltry.

Conversely, there are words I dislike simply because of how they sound rolling off the tongue—words like ointment, moist, and belly. I avoid these words if at all possible.

One word I have invited into my storehouse is peruse. I love how the second syllable hesitates and lingers on the tongue. But because of the way it sounds, I have attached an incorrect definition to it. Here’s a typical way I’ve used peruse in the past:

I had an extra hour, so I went to the bookstore to peruse the stacks.

In this context, I define peruse as thoughtful, happy wandering. According to the Oxford American Dictionary, I am wrong. Take a look at the definition:

peruse :: verb [ trans. ] formal
read thoroughly or carefully | examine carefully or at length

When I wander about the bookstore, I am not perusing the stacks at all. To do so would take an incalculable amount of time. The word I need in this case is skim:

skim :: verb [ trans. ] read (something) quickly or cursorily so as to note only the important points

As in: I had an extra hour, so I went to the bookstore to skim the stacks.

[polldaddy poll=3840525]

My WWW verdict? I’ve been using the wrong word because I like the way the wrong word sounds. [sigh.] Now I need to retrain my brain to insert skim instead of peruse. I hope I can learn new tricks.

What about you, my fellow word nerds? Do you play favorites with words because of the way they sound? Let your voice be heard in the poll.

And if your vote was yea, which words or word sounds bug you? Share those in the comments—let’s be bugged together.

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