Why not utilise use?

dog blinking

Choosing a word with extra syllables seems like a kind of one-upmanship over drab, simpler words like: use; and do. Is this a form of snobbery even more unbecoming than non-standard, corporate English?

Such marked words display a kind of vanity that doesn’t add much value. Let’s look at utilise. Taking the definitions from Wictionery:


utilise (third-person singular simple present > utilises, present participle utilising, simple past and past participle utilised)

To make useful, to find a practical use for.

To make use of; to use.

To make best use of; to use to its fullest extent, potential, or ability.

To make do with; to use in manner different from that originally intended

Each definition here makes use of a particularly useful word in defining utilise: use.

No matter which way you look at it, utilising something means using it. So, in what way is it more preferable to utilise something, than to use it?

Utilise does bring to mind more than just “use,” but does it improve the meaning being conveyed? I think the extra little syllables draw attention to the word itself: highlighting it within your other words. I am surely guilty of choosing gilt words which draw the mind to them, but I do hope they at least make sense on their pedestals. Does it make sense to highlight the word “use” in a sentence?

“Our service utilises this new technology!”

Wouldn’t it usually be more appropriate to draw attention either to your service, or to its new technological wizardry?

A simpler, bolder:

“We use this new technology”

seems to emphasise the active nature of the statement by making the agent personal (we instead of our service), and naturally points toward the new technology.

I suppose utilising feels less active than using. If I use a stick to bash your car, the emphasis is on me, and my action of bashing with a stick. If I were to utilise a stick, it feels like I had less choice in the matter of bashing your car, and more in choosing my implement. It’s along a similar vein to choosing the passive over the active voice: your car was bashed, and I’m too ashamed to admit to being the basher.

Leverage and action follow utilise. Attacking the verb leverage has added pedantry points because that final bit at the end (the morpheme “-age”) changes a verb into a noun in English. For example, I might spill this beer and create spillage, I have never yet spillaged anything. I will leave leverage here, but you can read more about it in Gabriel Smy’s “Are you stupid enough to use leverage as a verb?”

To action something, makes my mind contort into funny shapes trying to follow the logic. It follows utilise in its attention-seeking added emphasis, but it also feels like a completely wrong-fit for any sentence. Here’s how it goes for me:

Generally, language works in terms of agents, actions and objects. “I do a task” is a simple sentence in which I’m the thing performing an action on an object. Using the word “action” (which is a noun meaning “to act”), makes me wonder exactly how I’m supposed to act out the action of actioning something. If it’s a task, I could perform other actions on it (complete, delegate, begin, ignore…), but what action does “to action” imply? I’d rather just do tasks and save the mental gymnastics of attempting actively to undertake an action by actioning them. I’m sure someone better at logical reasoning than I could find a way around it, but they won’t alleviate the headache.

There is more “corporate jargon” out there (misuse of reflexive pronouns, “going forward”, “solutions”… ad nauseam), and no doubt other writers are actioning a list of words to attack, leveraging additional words and utilising blogs, tweets, and postings, so what is one more?

Well, I hope it’s shown that there are real reasons for some of us not liking the words some others choose, and to poke around a tiny bit into the details. An entire book could be written on this, and I’m sure it could be done without being bullying or entirely pedantic, but I’ve got to go now and find something to mop up the beer I just spillaged.

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