My word of the month is “Utilize”. Utilize is one of those fluffed up, pretentious, supposedly intellectual “dollar” words that people use when they want to sound smart. Many times we see it in PR copy: If you utilize this product, you will be better/stronger/smarter/richer etc. But I often see it in plain old prose: He utilized the rake to clean up the yard. Aw, come on.
There is a perfectly acceptable, three-letter word you can “use” instead. That’s it—USE. He used the rake to clean the yard. If you use this product you will___. Simple. Utilitarian. Easy. And do NOT use the even fluffier, more pretentious verb form: “utilization.” Ugh.
Here are the definitions of the two words:
Use: take, hold, or deploy (something) as a means of accomplishing or achieving something; employ—Oxford English Dictionary.
Utilize: to make or render useful; to convert to use, turn to account—Oxford English Dictionary. It implies taking something and using it for an intended purpose (convert to use).
“Utilize” is a legitimate word, borrowed from French, and has specific uses, usually in scientific writing. It is used in contexts in which a strategy is put to practical advantage or a chemical or nutrient is being taken up and used effectively.” For example, according to the American Heritage Guide to Contemporary Usage and Style, you might hear “utilize” properly used in a sentence such as If a diet contains too much phosphorus, calcium is not utilized efficiently.
But if you are a regular person writing a regular sentence for advertising copy or a novel, you should probably just stick with the word “use.”
How do you feel about use/utilize?
A native Montanan, Heidi M. Thomas now lives in Northwest Washington. Her first novel, Cowgirl Dreams, is based on her grandmother, and the sequel, Follow the Dream, has recently won the national WILLA Award. Heidi has a degree in journalism, a certificate in fiction writing, and is a member of Northwest Independent Editors Guild. She teaches writing and edits, blogs, and is working on the next books in her “Dare to Dream” series.