Saturday, November 08, 2008

Could We Just Get Something Straight Here?

One of my pet peeves is the widespread misuse of the verb "utilize." I hear it used incorrectly every day and thought I would take this opportunity to clear up some confusion.

"Use" and "utilize" are two verbs with distinct meanings. Don't confuse them.

"Use" is to employ objects for the purposes they were designed for.

"Utilize," on the other hand, is to employ objects for unintended purposes.

Authoritative proof:

The Oxford English Dictionary defines the verb use as "to make use of (some immaterial thing) as a means or instrument; to employ for a certain end or purpose."

But utilize is defined as "to make or render useful; to convert to use, turn to account."

MSN Encarta Dictionary defines to utilize as “to make use of something, or find a practical or effective use for something.”

And here is the logical proof of the crucial distinction between these two verbs: the logical extreme of "use" is "abuse," referring to the act of using something in ways that is contradictory to its original "mission statement" or designed function.

But there is no corresponding logical extreme for "utilize" like, let's say, "disutilize" or "abutilize" since by its very definition, to utilize something means to use it in ways that is different than the purpose for which it was originally designed or created. "Abuse," so to speak, is a built-in semantic component of "utilize."

WRONG: "The TV set utilizes coaxial cable to connect to the antenna." (A TV unit and a coaxial cable were meant to be used together, by definition.)

CORRECT: "The TV set uses coaxial cable to connect to the antenna.

CORRECT: "The TV set utilizes paper clips to connect to the antenna." (A TV set is not designed to use paper clips to connect to the antenna. That's a highly unusual improvisation and -- in the stretched sense of the word -- an "abuse" of paper clips.)


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