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Leveraging Misutilized Words: Utilize

Fact: utilize is not a more formal synonym for use. Unfortunately, the business world has done an excellent job fostering abuse of the word, and plenty of online dictionaries will lie to you about the correct meaning.

So what does utilize really mean?

Technically, utilize means “to put to use.” What that implies is that something “utilized” is not being used for its intended purpose, but for something else.

An example that I frequently cite at work, which shockingly hasn’t gotten me fired yet, is as follows:

“I’m going to use this phone to make a call.”


“I’m going to utilize this phone to bludgeon you in the head.”

These examples work because a phone is intended for making phone calls, but not for blunt trauma.

Many people have told me that they will never forget the proper application of the word utilize after hearing the preceding example. Maybe they just fear being struck in the head with a telephone.

For another excellent post on this topic that includes a less violent example, check out Grammar Party. Grammar Girl also explains when utilize can be properly applied in a scientific context.

Leveraging Misutilized Words (LMW) is a series in which I discuss commonly abused words. If you’d like to suggest a post, please send me a message.

Oh hi, internet. Nice to see you again.

Hi. My name is Audrey and I write books. Occasionally I also write short stories, and I’ve even penned a few Best-of-Craigslist posts. In the interest of full disclosure, I haven’t had a writing blog for about seven years, both because I fear stalkers and because taking myself seriously is impossible. For example, my former blog contained posts on topics such as:

I could claim that I’m going to class things up this time around, but that would probably be a lie.

I’m here now because this year marks a change in my career as a writer. After almost a decade of writing novels and tossing my crappy first drafts in drawers to collect dust, a few years ago I finally began to revise and focus on craft. Now I’ve been chosen as one of the 2013 Fellows for the Lambda Literary Foundation Writers’ Retreat for Emerging LGBT Voices. While working on my application, I got a lot out of reading the blogs of former Fellows, so I plan to document my experience this year. Hopefully it will involve more insights on writing than disturbing bathroom incidents (although I do seem to attract those).

Anyway, I stand before you still early in my writing and publishing journey. However it turns out, I’m sure it’ll be interesting along the way. I hope you’ll join me. I also hope you like bathroom humor.