Utilize – The Never Ending Controversy

At 40 years old, I went back to school, which at 40, it was pretty scary to go back so late in life.  I was worried I would even remember how to study!  I decided to enter an accelerated program to get my Bachelor’s and Master’s Degrees finally.  My very first hurdle was an English class to set the tone of what the University expected of our writing.

The first night, our teacher (Ph.D.) entered the room and told us about her educational background.  We all knew immediately; she was someone we knew was an expert on proper writing.  So, we all intently listened to her because we wanted to succeed.

When you decide to go into an accelerated program, you will only have five weeks (a few extensive topics would be a few weeks more) to complete the class that generally take 16 weeks to finish.  By the time you would get the first score on your written papers and tests, you could have already failed the class.

So, you can certainly understand why the University insisted the curriculum would first start with a writing class. I certainly appreciated the reminder of putting a comma inside of quotes, but what I was not ready for was the emphatic sternness about her stating that ‘utilize’ was not a word.

Now we all know utilize is used a lot in business, so in many cases, there is acceptance within some organizations.  However, I now had a much respected English teacher with a Ph.D., none-the-less, that is telling us that even though ‘utilize’ was in the dictionary, it was NOT a word, and to instead replace it with the word ‘use.’  She also stated if we used it in any of our writings within the school, we would fail the class. Hence my obsession with not using ‘utilize’ began.

I’ve been made fun of for my disdain of the non-word even to this day.  I’ve been told I was ridiculous, that I was undoubtedly wrong, and that I was crazy because there are such things as utilization reports.  If you have a utilization report, can you call it a consumption report?   If you look up words to replace utilize, you will find a lot of substitutes.

Now regardless of which side of the fence you are on with this controversy, the one thing that convinced me not to use it within my writing and business presentations, is how this word can trip up those who oppose it most.  And, throughout my business career, you would be surprised those who admitted they will never use utilize and cannot stand to see anyone in their organization to use it.

Think about this example for a moment, and I will get to my point, I promise.  Have you ever listen to someone speak, either on the phone or in front of people who are using ‘umm’ over and over and it distracts you?  If someone is always using ‘umm’ to gather their thoughts when they need to think or because they are nervous and trying to get themselves pulled together, this behavior tends to lose their audience.

If a speaker is using ‘umms’ over and over, I start counting the horrible hesitation placeholder, and the speaker has lost my attention to the message they are trying to convey.

We have all been that person that struggled with ‘umming’ our way through a presentation.  It was not until I took a public speaking class that was videotaped before I realized I developed this irritating habit.  I was shocked, but it made me work harder to minimize if not eliminate the natural practice I had developed.

So, what does this have to do with ‘utilize’ in a speech or presentation?  A lot to be honest!  Let me explain.

I have had many people, including ‘C’ level people tell me if someone uses ‘utilize,’ that they immediately discount the person, or at least the person loses credibility with them, and the potential goods they are selling or the idea for which they are trying to gain approval is compromised.

Now if you are in a client-centric selling environment like I am, you have to consider those who do not approve of using utilize.  For those who are in support of the word, believe me, if you do not use it in writing or a presentation, the audience will not miss it.  So, tell the truth, please.  If you are a supporter of ‘utilize,’ do you miss it in a presentation if someone does not use that word?  However, if opposed, some people may be ok and get past it, but there may be that one decision maker that will discount you and you never understood why.

I would suggest you learn about your audience.  If you know for sure that all parties, even in your own company, whereby using utilize is ok, then go for it.  I would throw caution to the wind if you are not sure someone’s stance, especially when you are in front of a prospect or client.

Just remember, if you give me something to look over, I will take it out.  And, if within a presentation and utilize is in the text, and I have to present, I will not say it.  I know….I probably have a few people riled up about now, but this is nothing new.  Only me trying to help those who may not realize why they lost a client or lost the potential sale.

More than likely, most decision-makers will not throw you out of their office because of a controversial ‘item’ in your presentation, but isn’t it better to make a small change and be sure?

Would welcome all comments!!

The opinions expressed in this Article are solely those of the author. They do not purport to reflect the opinions or views of the publisher or any entity whatsoever for which the author is affiliated.


Robin Anderson
Robin Anderson
ROBIN Anderson earned her BBA and MBA from Averett University and graduated with a 3.88 GPA. She is also a member of the Pinnacle National Honor Society and a member of the Institute of Financial Operations as well as served on the Strategic Advisory Committee for several years and has been a speaker for 4 years at the National Convention. Robin also speaks for the IOFM, AP Now and Tomorrow and Averett University. Robin volunteers her time with organizations such as the American Cancer Society, the ALS Association, and speaking for Averett University.

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  1. Hardcore grammar Nazis…ironically unware that their extremism is actually evidence of intellectual limitations (conditioned and/or otherwise). As for the rejection of the word by Ph.D. and “C” level people, don’t confuse higher education with highest education. Since they often occupy positions of influence, well….just choose your battles. 😉

  2. I’ve never had this conversation or had anyone tell me they disliked utilize. So, I utilize this word constantly.

    I’m not too worried about an ivory tower prof saying “Don’t use this!” They spend quite a bit of time worrying about unimportant things.

    But if C-level peeps actually worry about this, I guess it’s something to be considered.

    This really reminds me of Microsoft Word constantly suggesting alternative ways to say things. In the end, seeking to boring-afy language and writing. But that’s just how I utilize my, ummmm, thought processes.

    • HaHa!! Love it Michael. And, I agree with your ‘ummm’ comments. Thank you for stopping by to read my article. Hopefully you will not have to ‘utilize’ the advice! Robin