Word Peeves

(the first in an occasional series)

Whatever happened to “use?”

This handy little word (sometimes a verb, sometimes a noun) does yeoman’s work without pretension. And yet, it has been increasingly marginalized by “utilize” and “usage.” Not that I object to those words. They can be, forgive me, extremely useful. When “use” appears too often in my own writing, I look for synonyms – such as “employ” or even “utilize” – to minimize repetition. But I am peeved when I see people abandoning “use” entirely in favor of “utilize” or “usage.”

I saw this trend first in the 1980s when a portfolio manager would not … could not … bring himself to use the word “use.” It had to be “utilize,” because – and I quote – “it sounds better than ‘use.’” At the time, “utilize” was rarely used in conversation, so its appearance in a quarterly commentary seemed like affectation. “Utilize” didn’t make this fellow sound smarter, just self-important. It broke my heart because as his ghostwriter, I wanted him to look as good as possible.

In the years since, “utilize” has entered the popular lexicon and is widely used even in everyday speech. Maybe that’s why those who want to “sound better” are embracing “usage.” Like so: “The usage of alternative asset classes can help diversify a portfolio.” It is my profound hope that this clunky construction does not gain traction! “Use” would have worked just fine here. “The use of alternative asset classes can help diversify a portfolio.” Or, even better: Alternative asset classes can be used to help diversify a portfolio.

So let’s put “use” back to work. Simple and straightforward, it’s a powerful little word that can get the job done.

Word Watch
“Productionalization.” As in putting something into production. This word has moved out of the technology sector and into business PowerPoint presentations. Though inelegant, it fills a void and may endure. I’m not sure how I feel about that…

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

* Copy This Password *

* Type Or Paste Password Here *