Over"utilize"ation

(I think I’ve done this before – but it bears repeating.)

For me, there are a few intolerables when it comes to grammar: it is not a “mute” point, “irregardless” is not a word, there are three different spellings of the words pronounced “they’re” and each has their own specific meaning (what do you say to console a grammarian? “Their, there, they’re.”), “its” is not “it’s”, and the affect of “effect” is affected if you don’t get the right “effect”. (Okay, that last one may be wrong – I can never get it right.)
 
But there is one phrase that, while grammatically correct, makes me want to run screaming to my desk drawer, break into the old supplies, and use white-out on the computer screen.
 
Last week, I was at the Contemporary Resort at Disneyland. Next to the escalator on the fourth floor was a sign with the following phrase. “Please utilize the escalators to access…”
 
Utilize?! Really?!! Any reason I can’t just “use” the escalators?  Does it take something special to be able to “utilize” the elevators? Was the sign painter being paid by the syllable? Is there someone that you are trying to impress with the fancy, three-syllable word? If I utilize the escalator is it escautilizatory ambulation? Why, for Walt’s sake, can’t you just say what you mean?
 
The word “utilize” may be the most overused word today. Why is it everyone insists on using “utilize” when “use” is perfectly respectable? In fact, there is NO situation where the word “utilize” cannot be replaced with “use”
 
But, beyond my personal irritation with this situation, there is a practical application for auditors. The next time you are complaining about your audit reports - next time you are decrying the length of those reports – take a close look for the “utilizes”. That is, look for the extraneous words and phrases that are providing no value - that are included just to impress or sound “professional”.
 
Actually start with “utilize”. Then look for the other big words that can be replaced with simpler ones. Then look for the big sentences that can replaced with simpler ones. Then look for the big paragraphs that can be replaced with simpler ones. Then look for the big reports that can be replaced with simpler ones.
 
Cull the “utilizes” from each report until it says exactly what you want to say, and quit trying to impress with the words you are using - instead impress with the actual content.
 
And utilize your words more efficiently.

Posted on May 15, 2012 by Mike Jacka

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  1. 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.
  1. Mike, you are the most delightful curmudgeon.

    I agree with you completely. I can't tell you how much time I've spent untangling a complicated web of word to find the facts.

    Just write the way you speak. That's the best piece of writing advice I ever got. It's great advice, unless you are a lawyer. Perhaps your sign painter was an under-employed lawyer.

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