Can We Talk? A Brief List of Annoying Expressions and Verbal Fumbles

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Jim's picture

utilize can mean "to find a profitable or practical use for." Thus the sentence The teachers were unable to use the new computers might mean only that the teachers were unable to operate the computers, whereas The teachers were unable to utilize the new computers suggests that the teachers could not find ways to employ the computers in instruction.

When I was a salesman for IBM and writing proposals ... we would write:

"[you may] utilize the new system for accounts receivable processing"

Aaron Blumer's picture


In general, not a fan of "utilize," but it does have a different connotation in some contexts. It emphasizes the tool/resource aspect of whatever is being "utilized" more than simply "use" does.

Then again, I've seen so many places where writers used "utilize" where that extra bit of connotation is either unhelpful or doesn't belong... and they seem to just be going for big words to sound smarter.

As for "not unlike," again, there is connotation. I would add, fit. In any lanauge there are customary expressions that we use in certain contexts, so we choose expression B rather the more tidy expression A because it's customary. But "not unlike" is actually weaker than "like" for expressing similarity. They may be logically the same, but we say "not unlike" when we don't quite feel confident we want to say two things are actually similar. This isn't unusual in English at all... or probably other languages either. Negating an opposite is a way of being more reserved about what we're claiming.

But do people just use it randomly and create clutter? Sure. I've probably done it.