Use vs. utilize, headlines and the art of third thoughts

“Utilize” rarely adds anything but bluster to a sentence.

And in a headline, that bluster multiplies with the point size.

Yes, “utilize” has its use (not its utilization), as American Heritage points out, though I don’t remember ever needing to call upon it.

You will find it peppered liberally in annual reports (“The Household Survey was utilized in crafting mitigation actions for communities”), press releases (“We look forward to utilizing our well intervention assets”) and the proclamations of organizations that CAPITALIZE ALL THE LETTERS OF THEIR NAMES AND DANGLE TRADEMARKS BESIDE THEM LIKE THIS® (“The Miss Universe Organization, producers of the MISS UNIVERSE®, MISS USA® and MISS TEEN USA® Pageants, is a joint venture between Donald J. Trump and NBC Universal. Utilizing its nationwide grass roots infrastructure, the Miss Universe Organization is committed to increasing awareness of breast and ovarian cancers.”)


(After extensive research, I’ve concluded that the “R” in the circle means Ridiculous, though some sources suggest it means either Relentless or Rustbucket.)


Which is why I favor “use.”

(On second thought, Relentless is growing on me.)

Substituting a word wouldn’t have been enough in this headline, though. It needed to go deeper.

The point of the story isn’t just that more students are using scanners at the libraries; it’s that they are using scanners instead of copiers. So something like this might have worked:


Students scan more, copy less

The lesson here is to work harder at making headlines work harder. Dig beneath the surface and use words that explain, not just take up space.

On third thought, I’m leaning toward Rustbucket.


And if you think the idea of a third thought is odd, you’ve apparently never met Tiffany Aching, a young witch in training who rides herd on those tiny blue scalawags known as the Wee Free Men.

Tiffany, the creation of Terry Pratchett, describes third thoughts this way: “I’m thinking about how I think about what I think. At least I think so.”

So do I.

Definitely Rustbucket.

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One comment

  1. Gotta love a post that combines utilize and Pratchett. As soon as I get my boyfriend to understand “based on,” I will start in on “use.”

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