Some buzzwords spread because they seem more intelligent and complicated than their simpler alternatives. Such is the case with ‘utilize,’ a verb which in every instance can be substituted with the much more elegant ‘use.’
For example, on January 17, 2009, The Globe And Mail reported plans in Washington, D.C., to redesign the East Wing of the White House for the incoming U.S. president, Barack Obama. It quoted designer Michael Smith, who in a released statement cited the Obama family’s interest in “utilizing affordable brands and products.”
There is certainly some irony in a high-profile interior designer—whose past clients include celebrities Steven Spielberg, Cindy Crawford and Dustin Hoffman—trying to convey affordable simplicity with the needlessly technical ‘utilizing.’
Most writers are taught early on to keep language simple and straightforward. When they write fictional dialogue, for example, they are encouraged to attribute it to their characters with a simple ‘said,’ rather than the likes of ‘exclaimed,’ ‘declared’ or other overwrought synonyms.
Similarly, the beautifully brief ‘use’ can be relied upon universally, without needing to resort to more colourful variations. Also, as a noun, it can handily replace ‘usage’ and ‘utilization.’
While repetition itself can be a plague on language, this unassuming three-letter wonder is simply not fancy enough for readers (or listeners, when spoken) to tire of it. Indeed, they’ll hardly notice it—which is a good thing.