Use vs. Utilized

I do a fair amount of academic and technology editing and one word I am constantly booting off the page is “utilized.”

If you mean “use,” you should feel comfortable using “use.” It’s a marvelous and compact three-letter word that conveys a common concept without hogging character space. It may be one of the greatest words in the English language when you consider its small, unassuming stature compared to its many appropriate applications.

When I see the word “utilize” in any writing, I hear alarm bells. It suggests the author may be trying to sound important, extend the word count, perhaps is grasping for a synonym to shake up her writing or has spent too much time in the science lab.

According to one of my favorite sites, Grammar Girl, “utilize” does have a scientific function. If you are discussing chemical reactions and absorptions, you are correct to choose the longer, specific form. In fact, when we’re discussing any kind of evidence-based research — from chemical reactions to human social interactions — utilize is fine to use.

If you are not submitting to a scientific journal, I suggest you stick with “use.” And consider the glorious history of our 3-lettered friend, as provided by Google: