No ‘problems’ only ‘solutions’

July 20, 2013 § 1 Comment

For years the word ‘solutions’ has been in vogue. People offer all sorts of ‘solutions’, fostering, cleaning, and plumbing.

One of Crouch End’s supermarkets offers ‘ready meal solutions’. Is ‘ready meal solutions’ the right phrase? The word ‘solution’ according to my Concise Oxford Dictionary (2006) is a means of solving a problem/a correct answer to a puzzle.

‘Ready meals’ are not the ‘problem’, but the bother of making your own dinner is. A dinner might generate three hours of work (wash-up, done by hand). So wouldn’t it be better to entitle that part of the aisle: ‘dinner solutions’. At least the right problem (of making your dinner) is implied. Better still, the word ‘solutions’ could be replaced by ‘selection of’. We would read ‘selection of ready meals’. It does not have the same ring, at all, of ‘ready meal solutions’ but it would be more accurate.

The word ‘solutions’ sounds scientific. Has the person, providing the ‘solutions’, only arrived at them after many hours of experimentation in a laboratory? The word ‘solutions’ implies a problem that cannot be diagnosed at a glance. But many of them can be.

Earlier this year, a letter from a school noted that ‘storage solutions’ were needed. Years ago the school would have been quite content to write about not having enough space to store musical instruments.


‘Utilize’ when should you use it?

July 10, 2013 § Leave a comment

‘Utilize’ is a very popular word in business. Business writers cannot resist it. The word seems to appear in every ‘conventional’ business book I read. We are advised to ‘utilize’ our skills, perhaps, or our knowledge.

Do people think ‘utilize’ is the rich relative of ‘use’ ? Should we say ‘utilize’, in a meeting, where, in everyday life, we would say ‘use’.

utilize It can seem PRETENTIOUS to use utilize where use will do, and it nearly always will do. There is some excuse for utilize in the sense of ‘put to unexpected practical use’ (utilize an old bathtub as a drinking trough).

Sidney Greenbaum and Janet Whitcut, Longman Guide to English Usage  (1988)

utilize This is not just a fancy word for use, and you should not write things like *Computers can be utilized for a number of purposes. The word means ‘put to a useful purpose (something that would otherwise be wasted)’. For example, oil companies used to throw away petrol (gasoline), until the invention of the internal-combustion engine meant that it could finally be utilized.

R.L. Trask, Mind The Gaffe (2001)

In the Concise Oxford Dictionary (2006) ‘utilize’ or ‘utilise’ is defined as ‘make practical and effective use of: he was determined to utilize the new technology.’

Those dictionary-compiling people at the Oxford Unversity Press have muddied the waters. Aren’t we now back to square one? Isn’t the Concise Oxford Dictionary’s example of ‘utilize’ pretentious? There is no sense here that the ‘he’ of the example is using the technology in some ‘unexpected’ way or that if he did not utilize the technology, it would go to waste. Would not Trask, Greenbaum, and Whitcut have been content with he was determined to use the new technology.

All the same, in real life, the word ‘utilize’  is by and large just a fancy word for ‘use’. Its appeal eludes me. Its use may be pretentious but unlike other ‘pretentious’ words, it has no poetry.





July 2, 2013 § Leave a comment

On the use of the word  ‘irregardless’


Illiterate.  Theodore M Bernstein, The Careful Writer (1965)


This means the same as regardless, which is itself negative; probably the added negative prefix was mistakenly introduced by analogy with irrespective. It should not be used. Sidney Greenbaum and Janet Whitcut, Longman Guide to English Usage  (1988)

irregardless There is no such word: write regardless, not *irregardless. R.L Trask, Mind The Gaffe (2001)

February 9 [1940]: I have just learnt,” said Cody [Gilman], “that you cannot use the word ‘irregardless.’ Of course if it’s incorrect I shan’t use it; naturally one cannot have an outlawed word in one’s vocabulary. But”—he looked very wistful—“I don’t expect to get anywhere without it. I owe all my skill in debate to that one word. Irregardless. You can’t prove anything with regardless. But take irregardless. Why, you throw out ‘irregardless’ into the argument and you win, hands down. Nobody can talk back.” The Diaries of Dawn Powell 1931-1965

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