‘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.

 

 

 

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