To utilize or not to utilize?

Subject: To utilize or not to utilize?
From: "Hart, Geoff" <Geoff-H -at- MTL -dot- FERIC -dot- CA>
To: "TECHWR-L" <techwr-l -at- lists -dot- raycomm -dot- com>
Date: Tue, 4 Sep 2001 14:15:38 -0400

Sarah Stegall wonders: <<Upcoming wrangle with my PM over the phrase
"Bandwidth Utilization". I maintain that "Use" or "Usage" would be more
consistent with proper English, *and* save our GUI developer space on his
page... but the Project Manager (who is a marketing guy, not an engineer),
maintains that "Utilization" is the (everyone bow now) "Industry Standard"
and we should stick with whatever the industry is comfortable with.>>

At least in Canadian usage*, "utilize" carries the connotation of making an
unusual, particularly clever, or effective use of something, and
"utilization" carries the connotation of how well or to what extent you're
using an existing resource (here, bandwidth). Thus, the word differs from
the garden variety of "use". For example: I use techwr-l to pontificate on
such usage issues, and I utilize a significant portion of techwr-l's
bandwidth in so doing. Phrases such as "utilization rate" are particularly
common, and shouldn't be arbitrarily changed.

* Per the Oxford Guide to Canadian Usage, federal govt. style guidelines (as
reported in "The Canadian Style"), and my own experience in the sciences.

Pace Bruce Byfield, who's correct that utilize is often used <g> incorrectly
and pompously, it's sometimes best for us to accept industry standards for
wording. The problem is not that "use" or "usage" is necessarily wrong, nor
is it that someday the usage will change; rather, substituting "use" or
"usage" produces a phrase likely to be less familiar to most readers, and
that draws attention to itself. Anything that looks weird (or even wrong) to
readers, irrespective of whether it's correct, should generally be avoided.
At the cost of using <g> a few extra letters, sticking with "utilization"
isn't a particularly severe sacrifice.

--Geoff Hart, FERIC, Pointe-Claire, Quebec
geoff-h -at- mtl -dot- feric -dot- ca
"User's advocate" online monthly at

"The problem with defending the purity of the English language is that
English is about as pure as a cribhouse [We're Happily Overcoming Repulsive
E-mailfiltering]. We don't just borrow words; on occasion, English has
pursued other languages down alleyways to beat them unconscious and rifle
their pockets for new vocabulary."-- James D. Nicoll


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