“You keep using that word. I don’t think it means what you think it means.” ~ Inigo Montoya in The Princess Bride
The word Utilize has a meaning.
It means: to use an object (or idea, or device, or word, you get the drift) for something other than its intended purpose. In 19th Century English, they’d say “put to use” which does not equal “use.”
Here’s how it works:
You can utilize a phone as a flashlight. You can’t ‘utilize’ a phone to reach out to your customer base. Because phones were made to contact people who also have phones.
Let’s try another one.
You can use a travel mug for a delicious boost during your commute. And you can utilize a travel mug to collect drips under a leak while you go and get a plumber. You can’t ‘utilize’ a travel mug for carrying a perfect latte to an offsite meeting any more than you can ‘use’ a travel mug to bean someone on the head with when they overuse the word utilize without knowing what it means.
Here are some synonyms for utilize: hack, MacGuyver, improvise, repurpose, upcycle, makeshift, appropriate, apply, exploit, put to use, take advantage of, exploit, turn to profitable account.
I’m certain that last one will seem tricky because the people most likely to misuse the word ‘utilize’ are in the SEO writing community. They are my people. I love them dearly, but due to our industry standards for keyword density, I have to read them misuse ‘utilize’ way more than any supportive friend ever should. Do you hear me SEO peeps? Stop hurting me!
Just because you can ‘turn a landing page to profit’ you don’t also by definition get to ‘utilize’ the latest techniques and tools. Most of the tools and tips you’ll see on a page about SEO and content creation will discuss how to ‘utilize’ some damn thing to its ultimate potential. Which is impossible.
WHICH IS IMPOSSIBLE.
You can use something to it’s fullest, or you can utilize something to solve a problem.
Which is great! Utilize is a great word. It speaks to creativity, lateral thinking, innovation, ingenuity and problem-solving. We should be holding up this word as a standard for hackers, makers and innovators everywhere. When we suggest that sales managers ‘utilize’ sms technology to sell $0.50 coupons, we devalue a word that should mean the very best in human invention.
So now you know what it is and why it’s important. Go forth writers, and use the word utilize sparingly, and with the reverence language deserves. Language is the tool with which we create our reality. Don’t utilize language to ruin our expectations of one another. Use it to make something incredible.