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Today there is lots of buzz around usage of use vs. utilize. What fodder for us!

The tweets (from Twitter) that got us started …

@phoefling to @GrammarCops: “*grammar rant* Whatever happened to the word ‘long’? A perfectly good word that’s been replaced by ‘lengthy’. Yuck!”

@Ms_Austen to @GrammarCops: “your description of ‘long’ similar applies to the word use,’ a perfectly good word often replaced by utilize.'”

@mightyredpen to @GrammarCops: “Up there with perfectly good word ‘use‘ being replaced by ‘utilize.’ Ugh.”

@mattimago (a Grammar Police Deputy) to @GrammarCops: “Utilise vs. use: I fully intend (split infinitive!) to utilise any pertinent points you post. I have no use for poor grammar.”

Then, the topic quickly turned to split infinitives … (upon which we shall dutifully follow-up and utilize in a future post). he he

@ChristinaGayle to @GrammarCops: “I like to use split infinitives from time to time. It makes me feel dangerous.”

Although the word utilize has origins as far back as the early 1800s, it seems that the computer age has put this term front and center. And, regardless of its standing as an official word in most dictionaries, it gets some people riled. Consider this usage note from dictionary.com:

Usage Note: A number of critics have remarked that utilize is an unnecessary substitute for use. It is true that many occurrences of utilize could be replaced by use with no loss to anything but pretentiousness, for example, in sentences such as ‘They utilized questionable methods in their analysis’ or ‘We hope that many commuters will continue to utilize mass transit after the bridge has reopened.’ But utilize can mean ‘to find a profitable or practical use for.’ Thus the sentence ‘The teachers were unable to use the new computers’ might mean only that the teachers were unable to operate the computers, whereas ‘The teachers were unable to utilize the new computers’ suggests that the teachers could not find ways to employ the computers in instruction.

use vs utilize

Here’s a simple and functional distinction:

Use is the general word: (What is used often has depreciated or been diminished, sometimes completely consumed: a used automobile; All the butter has been used.) As applied to persons, use implies some selfish or sinister purpose: to use another to advance oneself. Utilize implies practical or profitable use: to utilize the means at hand, a modern system of lighting.

Plus, the dictionary definitions:

use. verb (used with object).

  • to employ for some purpose; put into service; make use of: to use a knife. 
  • to avail oneself of; apply to one’s own purposes: to use the facilities. 
  • to expend or consume in use: We have used the money provided. 
  • to treat or behave toward: He did not use his employees with much consideration. 
  • to take unfair advantage of; exploit: to use people to gain one’s own ends. 
  • to drink, smoke, or ingest habitually: to use drugs. 
  • to habituate or accustom.
  • Archaic. to practice habitually or customarily; make a practice of.

use. verb. (used without object).

  • to be accustomed, wont, or customarily found (used with an infinitive expressed or understood, and, except in archaic use, now only in the past): He used to go every day. 
  • Archaic. to resort, stay, or dwell customarily.

use. noun.

  • the act of employing, using, or putting into service: the use of tools. 
  • the state of being employed or used.
  • an instance or way of employing or using something: proper use of the tool; the painter’s use of color. 
  • a way of being employed or used; a purpose for which something is used: He was of temporary use. The instrument has different uses. 
  • the power, right, or privilege of employing or using something: to lose the use of the right eye; to be denied the use of a library card. 
  • service or advantage in or for being employed or used; utility or usefulness: of no practical use. 
  • help; profit; resulting good: What’s the use of pursuing the matter? 
  • occasion or need, as for something to be employed or used: Would you have any use for another calendar? 
  • continued, habitual, or customary employment or practice; custom: to follow the prevailing use of such occasions. 
  • Law. a. the enjoyment of property, as by the employment, occupation, or exercise of it. b. the benefit or profit of lands and tenements in the possession of another who simply holds them for the beneficiary. c. the equitable ownership of land to which the legal title is in another’s name.
  • Liturgy. the distinctive form of ritual or of any liturgical observance used in a particular church, diocese, community, etc.
  • usual or customary experience.

use. verb phrase.

  • use up, a. to consume entirely. b. to exhaust of vigor or usefulness; finish: By the end of the war he felt used up and sick of life. 

use. Idioms.

  • have no use for, a. to have no occasion or need for: She appears to have no use for the city. b. to refuse to tolerate; discount: He had no use for his brother. c. to have a distaste for; dislike: He has no use for dictators. 
  • make use of, to use for one’s own purposes; employ: Charitable organizations will make use of your old furniture and clothing. 
  • of no use, of no advantage or help: It’s of no use to look for that missing earring. It’s no use asking her to go. Also, no use.
  • put to use, to apply; employ to advantage: What a shame that no one has put that old deserted mansion to use! 

And then there’s …

utilize. verb (used with object). Also, especially British, utilise.

  • to put to use; turn to profitable account: to utilize a stream to power a mill. 

So, our usage recommendation: use use when not useful to utilize :-).

Source: dictionary.com

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