In Defense of “Use”

Good writing (in contrast with mine) is defined by great verbs. Verbs are the essential component in answering “how?”. You can’t tell a story without the verbs. The sad little world of nouns and adjectives only tells, it never shows.

Which is why we need to fucking bury the word “utilize”.

Maybe it’s just that I’ve been free of the corporate-speak haze for too many moons, but nothing gets the hair on the back of my neck to stand up in empathized embarrassment like hearing a smart person say “utilize” when all they needed was a simple “use”. It’s as though the accreted mental sludge of sitting in meetings causes some sort of malapropism-Tourettes. To my delight, it seems the dictionary on my MacBook agrees with me; from the “utilize” entry:

Because it is a more formal word than use and is often used in contexts (as in business writing) where the ordinary verb “use” would be simpler and more direct, “utilize” may strike readers as pretentious jargon and should therefore be used sparingly.

See! “Used sparingly”! Not effing “utilized sparingly”.


  1. Mark
    Posted September 12, 2006 at 1:21 am | Permalink

    Damn right! Although what really gets my goat up is people using “lay” instead of “lie”, as in “I was laying on the beach”. Lay is the past participle of lie. It’s so wrong to ‘utilize’ it that way :)

  2. Posted September 12, 2006 at 4:47 am | Permalink

    Reminds me of a the George Carlin euphemism rant:

    “THey don’t have a negative cash-flow position, they’re fucking broke!”
    If you haven’t seen it, you owe it to yourself to find it.

    Btw, the WYSIWYG editor is kind of weird. If I scroll I get lines accroos it in random places. I’m using Firefox 1.5, just thought I’d let you know.

  3. Rick Thomas
    Posted September 12, 2006 at 8:30 am | Permalink

    Agreed. The only use for “utilize” is in the sense of “utilization” where use is quantified.

  4. Patrick Corcoran
    Posted September 12, 2006 at 12:50 pm | Permalink

    A Bullfighter classic:

    And interestingly enough, if one searches the last 2 months of emails on the “dojo-contributors” list, there is only one instance to be found of the word “utilize”.  Guess that’s a jargon-free bunch, eh?

    (And aren’t you relieved to know you weren’t the one utilizing it? :) )

  5. Kit Russell
    Posted September 15, 2006 at 7:51 am | Permalink

    I agree; the correct use of the verb is important.  Keeping our language standardized will enable everyone to be able to communicate more clearly.  Our society requires this now more than ever.  But I think you have more verbal power without the ‘swear’ words.  They do reflect your profound frustration, but I have found that it is true that speech without it.

  6. loonatic
    Posted September 27, 2006 at 2:19 am | Permalink

    Good one !
    And getting rid of “solution” in biz-speak might be a good one too.
    Then again most of the biz-speak curls my toes, makes all my hair stand up etc etc

  7. Michael Terry
    Posted November 4, 2006 at 11:26 am | Permalink

     This input box doesn’t soft wrap in Safari. And the cursor leave artifacts.Anyway, no kidding about utilized. That’s not the only problem with businessspeak. For some reason, folks in management always prefer the most general,meaningless description over the clear and meaningful. Last year, a manager”corrected” my entry describing a problem at one of our offices: “couldn’t reachthe Internet” became “network connectivity issues”.