use and utility

Charles Doyle cdoyle at UGA.EDU
Fri Feb 19 21:18:51 UTC 2010

"Utility" can mean 'usefulness' as well as 'use'--but no parallel distinction obtains with the verbs "utilize" and "use." (My students are fond of "utilization.")

In discussions of language, I am often perplexed by the distinction (if any) between the nouns "use" and "usage."


---- Original message ----
>Date: Fri, 19 Feb 2010 16:06:05 -0500
>From: American Dialect Society <ADS-L at LISTSERV.UGA.EDU> (on behalf of victor steinbok <aardvark66 at GMAIL.COM>)
>Subject: use and utility

>A report about an interview with John Ashcroft contains a line, 'Asked
>specifically about holding civilian trials for terrorists, he said
>such a venue "has use and utility".' There is enough nuanced
>difference between "use" and "utility", I suppose, to justify
>occasional use of the phrase, but, it seems, it's become one of stock
>phrases that people don't even think about any more. Like many
>business, political or sports expressions, it's meaning has become
>nearly vacuous. The same goes for the verbal version--"use and
>utilize". Google shows MILLIONS of raw hits on each.
>There is, however, slightly different structure to these searches.
>The top hits for "use and utility" appear to be mostly in jargon-y
>titles of professional papers:
>  Opioid Analgesia: Perspectives on Right Use and Utility
>  The Use And Utility of International Arbitration in EC Commission
>Merger Remedies
>  The Use and Utility of High-Level Semantic Features
>  The Use and Utility of High-Level Semantic Features in Video Retrieval
>  The Use and Utility of Prescription Drug Monitoring Programs
>This is not the case for "use and utilize". Here, the top hits are all
>on style and usage prescriptions:
>  Scientific English--Utilize and Use
>Apr 22, 1999 ... Use use when you mean use, and utilize only when it's
>properly used to mean--to use something not normally used.
>  Writing -- How To Use "Use" Versus "Utilize" Correctly?
>Mar 7, 2007 ... "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."
>   Grammar Girl : “Use” Versus “Utilize” :: Quick and Dirty Tips ™
>Now on to the difference between “use” and “utilize,” thanks to a
>question from Thomas. Bonnie says that as a copy editor she often
>reads fluffed up marketing material full of big words that try to make
>the writer sound important or knowledgeable. She usually just changes
>them to normal, unimpressive words that get the point across without
>much fuss. One of these words she changes often is “utilize,” as in
>the pretentious-sounding sentence “If you utilize this brand of
>printer, you will go far.”
>  WikiAnswers - What is the difference between the words use and utilize
>What is the difference between the words use and utilize? Use and
>utilize are often used interchangably, as synonyms, usually to turn a
>boring one-syllable word into a fancy-sounding three-syllable word.
>Unfortunately this practice has diluted the original meaning of
>The real difference is "use" means what you think it means, to employ
>for some purpose, whereas "utilize" means to use something for other
>than its intended purpose, or to give something a purpose that it is
>not normally thought to have. In other words, to give something
>utility. Notice that both utilize and utility share the same root word
>"util," probably latin for "purpose" or something.
>It is not until ghits 23 and 27 that the advice stream is interrupted.
>Only on page 4 (ghits 31-40) that it really stops.
>Some blame the confusion on "hoity-toity" authors/friends. Others
>blame it on the French, from whom "utilize" was "borrowed". Most just
>complain about the users' ignorance. Not one mentions the fact that
>the two are used together in a stock phrase, just like the
>corresponding nouns (although half as many raw hits--about 4 mil vs.
>about 8 mil).
>Not being a prescriptivist does not mean that I cannot argue against
>the logic (or lack thereof) in usage of particular phrases. Things can
>still be wrong--I don't really care how many people use "could of/off"
>instead of "could have", it will never make the usage correct. In this
>case, I am somewhat ambivalent. On one hand, the phrase seems
>redundant. On the other hand, for people who desperately argue that
>the two words in the pair have deeply divergent meanings (obviously
>the case if you are not supposed to replace one with the other), using
>them in a pair should be perfectly normal--except, of course, if they
>happen to have exclusionary meaning, and there is a case for that too.
>But, for the moment, I just wanted to bring attention to it. And I am
>also wondering how different the cases of "use and utilize" vs. "use
>and utility" are.
>[As far as I can tell, the subject has not been broached on ADS-L.]
>The American Dialect Society -

The American Dialect Society -

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