In my last post, I went off a bit on the word “utilize”, in the process taking swipes at “irregardless”, “mute point”, and some other grammatical tidbits. Ultimately, I was trying to make a point about simplifying the way we communicate, primarily in writing reports.
I got a very thought-provoking response from Andrew. I quote the full comment for your benefit:
“First, although I generally agree with your point, there are some times when simpler is not always better. The first example I can come up with is the Gettysburg Address. Would it be so revered today if Lincoln had started with "87 years ago", instead of "Four score and seven years ago?" Second, although I hate to be nit-picky, this is a post on grammar so I'll go right ahead. Technically, "irregardless" is a word. (The first definition of "word" on merriam-webster.com is "something that is said.") The great thing about language is that it is not a static thing. It evolves. I'm not suggesting we start using text-speak in audit reports (although that would make a good April Fool's joke for someone with really good job security and some extra time) but words, and the meanings of words, change over time. That is part of what makes language so much fun. New words are created (email, computer), meanings are changed (gay), and some words fall out of favor (nary, yonder). But irregardless of that, the correct thing to say is that "irregardless" is a non-standard word.”
Andrew is correct on a number of points. For that reason (and because I am a not-so-closeted grammar geek), I want to dig into those comments just a little bit deeper.
“Simpler is not better”. No disagreement at all. Note that, in my diatribe about not using the word “utilize” because it is more word than is ever needed, I used such words as “intolerables”, “decrying”, “extraneous”, and “grammarian”. Note that I wrote “Next to the escalator on the fourth floor was a sign with the following phrase…” which could have been more succinctly written as “A sign next to the elevator read…” There is a time and place for the richness of words that make up our vocabulary. I stand by the fact that seldom is that time and place while trying to communicate the results of audit work.
(There was an auditor who worked for me who took on the personal challenge of trying to slip these kinds of words past me in reports. Yes, Allen, I’m talking about you.)
“Technically, ‘irregardless’ is a word. (The first definition of “word…is ‘something that is said.)’” Andrew is right, again. Irregardless, as he later noted, is a non-standard word. Of course by that definition “escautilizatory”, a word I coined for the post, is now a word. (Side note: five bucks to the first person who comes up to me at the international conference and can say that word five times real fast.) But, grammar geek that I am, I can see myself bringing that same point up to someone else. So, I’ll definitely give Andrew that one.
But all this has just been preamble to the point Andrew made that I really like. “The great thing about language is that it is not static; it evolves.” Fantastic point! I’ve been in audit 30 years. I’m willing to bet that, if I looked at the reports I wrote 30 years ago they would have a bit of antiquatedness about them. Similarly, there is no way I could write an effective audit report today with the words and phrases that were part of my arsenal at that time. (Extreme example? How about writing a report on a review of the company’s use of social media?) All that change is what makes language so much fun.
And just so you don’t think this is all about grammar geekdom, each of these points raises their own issues when it comes to the problem of getting a good report issued. When is simpler not better? What is the proper use of non-standard words? (And throw jargon in there because it is as obfuscatory as any non-standard word.) And when is a change in language more than a fad; when does it become a necessary part of the way we need to communicate?
No answers. Just questions. And, to be honest, I think we answer these questions intuitively every time we write a report. But every once in a while, it is a good idea to take a closer look to make sure that we are providing the best product possible.
And, at the end of the day, maybe because it just grates on my nerves, maybe because I’ve become hypersensitive to its use, maybe I am (as one reader suggested) a curmudgeon (at least she said “delightful” curmudgeon), but I still don’t think utilize provides any value within the English language. (When I see Abe Lincoln, I’ll check to see if he agrees.)