Sunday, October 12, 2008

Use vs. utilize

A good friend is in the English department here at UConn, and she's English as well which I think means that she really knows the language. In a discussion about something else, she brought up this gem...that the words "use" and "utilize" have different meanings.

To "use" an object employs it for its intended purpose.

To "utilize" an object is to employ it for an unintended purpose.

Her example: you use a lampshade to cover a light. You utilize it as a party hat on your head.

As I get older, I think I'm more interested in the meanings of words (though, not that I use them any better), so this was cool. However, part of me wonders if everyone else already knows stuff like this, and I'm just catching up.

Do you already know how to properly utilize the word use?


Brandon H. said...

As a former English undergrad student, and now studying medieval languages (and their history--esp. English), I'm always finding great little bits about how words work. I never really knew the difference between these words, but it's a fascinating one.

Nate said...

I'm on the pragmatic side of the debate-- language is about understanding, not rules. If words are used the same way regardless of nuance and they do not cause any confusion, we should just water down the definitions. People who care can care (I myself enjoy the history of words) and everyone can add adjectives and adverbs to make up for any lost meaning.

Ouch! A copy of The Elements of Style that just smacked me in the back of the head.

J. R. Miller said...

Hey Brad, you asked, "Do you already know how to properly utilize the word use?"

Given that utilize refers to the unintended use of an object, isn't it impossible to "properly utilize" the word use? ;-)

Brad Wright said...

Brandon... please share your word discovers!

Nate... in principle I agree. I frequently make-up words accidentally, so I can't be a purist. Still, I enjoy learning nuances of word choice.

JR... thank you for getting my little joke.