Word Hate, Episode 1: Utilize

Some words set my blood pressure on fire.

My new series, Word Hate, explores what these hated words are, why people use them, and which smarter words can be used instead.

I hate utilize!

I jokingly tell my long term clients that I charge $1.00 for every utilize that I must delete from their drafts.  And delete I will!

Why do so many people prefer utilize over use and other – better! – word options? My best guess is that they fall into this habit as teenagers and 20-somethings because they consider utilize a shortcut to sounding intelligent and they are too young to know better.

If this is you, break this habit! Utilize is a cheap, fluff word. It doesn’t sound smart. It sounds pretentious.  (Sorry.) (Not sorry.) (This is what friends are for, right?)

There are a few more issues with utilize, aside from the pretentiousness and fluffiness problems.

Utilize Violates the Plain Word is Best Principle

Always prefer the plain, direct word to the long, vague one.                                           CS Lewis

Every respectable style guide and the most revered authors who offer writerly advice state that the plain, short, and direct word should be preferred to the longer, vague, and indirect word.

Use: plain, short, and direct.

Utilize: long, vague, and indirect.

Why is a plain, short word better? It is better because concision is a hallmark of great writing and clear thinking. The point of writing and word choice is to highlight a well organized and intriguing idea, and plain words help writers explain the idea without distraction, without fluffiness.

If you mean “to use,” then use the plain word, use. 

Utilize is a Cop Out for Word Specificity 

The fluffiness of utilize makes it a cheap way to express a thought without putting any imagination or effort into word choice. If the aim is concise content, and it should be, then we must eek out the most meaning from every word, and word-specificity does that for us.

Which sentence best expresses a direct and specific action?

“In my previous job, I utilized Excel Spreadsheets.”

or

“In my previous job, I mastered Excel Spreadsheets.”

See the difference?

If you don’t like mastered (or used), here are a few word options, active words with specificity and pizzazz, that will bring variety to your vocabulary and help you break your utilize habit:

  • employ
  • hone
  • apply
  • manage
  • deploy
  • achieve
  • handle
  • grasp
  • initiate
  • instigate
  • cause
  • adopt
  • adapt
  • custom
  • operate
  • control
  • govern
  • regulate
  • master

What about you? How do you feel about utilize? Have you broken the utilize habit?

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