To use, or to utilize, that is the question

By John Keller

Posted by John Keller

I do try to use this blog space for matters of defense and/or aerospace issues, but now and then -- when I just can't take it anymore -- I shall utilize it to rant to the outer edges of sanity about some of the things that drive me just bloody, absolutely nuts.

Today's rant involves everyone out there -- even occasionally my own writers, fer crissakes -- who substitute the word 'utilize' for the exceedingly good, short, clear, and concise word 'use.'

Let me be clear: utilize is not a synonym for use, and you can't treat it as such. Some people think it is, and in their misguided, futile attempts to make themselves sound smart, write utilize where the word doesn't fit at all. Those who do this, in my book, succeed only in making themselves sound not only stilted and stand-offish, but ignorant as well.

Here's how it works: 'use' means to employ for some intended purpose. The key word here is intended. Utilize, on the other hand, means to employ for some unintended purpose. It sounds like a subtle difference at first glance, but it really isn't.

I may use my laptop computer in the library, for example, to write a story, update a spreadsheet, or play a quick game. If I get sleepy, however, I may curl up in a quiet corner and utilize my laptop as a pillow.

I may use the dime in my pocket to help pay for bus fare, yet I may utilize a dime as a screwdriver when I get home to fix that loose mailbox. Speaking of screws, I may use a screwdriver to fix the loose mailbox if I've used my last dime for bus fare, but I may utilize the handle of the screwdriver as a hammer to tap the mailbox back into place before I turn the tool around to tighten the offending screw.

Would it make sense for an engineer to utilize an EDA tool to help him design a complex integrated circuit or system on a chip ? Certainly not. In fact, to suggest so would devalue, almost insult, the EDA tool in question, as well as belittle its manufacturer. PR people, think about that the next time you write a press release.

I know there are plenty of people who might go to references like the dictionary, look up use and utilize, and argue that the two words are interchangeable. You could do that, but I'll judge you to be incorrect.

Substituting the word use for the word utilize does not add variety by employing different synonyms; it's just plain wrong.

I know the technical writers and public relations people out there want to sound intelligent, but they ought not to attempt this by confusing these two clearly different, yet useful words.

Previous Blog Posts

Capital Hill budget deal could restore tens of billions of dollars to the Pentagon

Tue Dec 17 13:15:00 CST 2013

Hacker drone story a cautionary tale about the need for unmanned vehicle data security

Tue Dec 10 09:46:00 CST 2013

Lack of money for systems upgrades threatens to maintain wind-farm radar dead spots

Tue Dec 03 10:36:00 CST 2013

Engineering support contracts indicate the Pentagon is sinking into the Mothball Strategy

Tue Nov 26 06:57:00 CST 2013

The revenge of COTS: an ageing commercial technology base complicates military supply chain

Tue Nov 19 08:53:00 CST 2013

Navy's newest destroyers evolve to fill traditional battleship roles

Tue Nov 12 11:54:00 CST 2013

International suspicions of U.S. encryption technology putting defense companies in a bind

Tue Nov 05 11:24:00 CST 2013

Defense industry left guessing as Army struggles forward with an unclear mission

Tue Oct 29 09:45:00 CDT 2013

These are tough times for the combat vehicle and vetronics industries

Tue Oct 22 04:22:00 CDT 2013

Is the government shutdown a harbinger of more ominous things to come?

Tue Oct 15 11:21:00 CDT 2013

Government shutdown reduces military contracting, increasing pressure on U.S. defense industry

Mon Oct 07 12:17:00 CDT 2013

Potential good news: has U.S. defense spending finally bottomed-out?

Tue Oct 01 13:02:00 CDT 2013

Is robotics revolution the first glimpse of a fundamental change in human evolution?

Tue Sep 24 09:46:00 CDT 2013

Obsolescent parts: are we enhancing military readiness or creating a hollow force?

Tue Sep 17 15:46:00 CDT 2013

For the high-tech warfighter, the future of electronics-laden uniforms is here

Tue Sep 10 11:26:00 CDT 2013

New generation of embedded computing thermal management in development at GE

Tue Sep 03 09:44:00 CDT 2013

Trading bus stops for credit cards: how far embedded computing has come in three decades

Tue Aug 27 10:59:00 CDT 2013

Unmanned vehicle industry stands at the doorstep of a fundamental transformation

Tue Aug 20 11:09:00 CDT 2013

AUVSI 2013, one of the biggest unmanned vehicles shows in the world, opens this week in Washington

Tue Aug 13 05:35:00 CDT 2013

The Washington Post, under Jeff Bezos, could lead the way for media in the 21st Century

Tue Aug 06 09:47:00 CDT 2013

Are costs and vulnerabilities making military leaders nervous about satellite communications?

Tue Jul 30 11:07:00 CDT 2013

Unmanned aircraft carrier that travels beneath the waves may be in the Navy's future

Tue Jul 23 05:20:00 CDT 2013

Electronic warfare programs kick into high gear with a flurry of contract activity

Tue Jul 16 08:03:00 CDT 2013

How vulnerable are U.S. Navy vessels to advanced anti-ship cruise missiles?

Tue Jul 09 07:03:00 CDT 2013

First came VHSIC, then came MIMIC, and now comes ACE to push electronics technology

Tue Jul 02 09:16:00 CDT 2013

The Mil & Aero Bloggers

John Keller is editor-in-chief of Military & Aerospace Electronics magazine, which provides extensive coverage and analysis of enabling electronic and optoelectronic technologies in military, space, and commercial aviation applications. A member of the Military & Aerospace Electronics staff since the magazine's founding in 1989, Mr. Keller took over as chief editor in 1995.

Ernesto Burden is the publisher of PennWell’s Aerospace & Defense Media Group, including Military & Aerospace Electronics, Avionics Intelligence and Avionics Europe.  He’s a father of four, a runner, and an avid digital media enthusiast with a deep background in the intersection of media publishing, digital technology, and social media. He can be reached at and on Twitter @aero_ernesto.

Courtney E. Howard, as executive editor, enjoys writing about all things electronics and avionics in PennWell’s burgeoning Aerospace and Defense Group, which encompasses Military & Aerospace Electronics, Avionics Intelligence, the Avionics Europe conference, and much more. She’s also a self-proclaimed social-media maven, mil-aero nerd, and avid avionics geek. Connect with Courtney at, @coho on Twitter, and on LinkedIn.

Mil & Aero Magazine

August 2015
Volume 26, Issue 8

All Access Sponsors

Download Our Apps




Connect with Us


Military & Aerospace Electronics

Weekly newsletter covering technical content, breaking news and product information

Cyber Security

Monthly newsletter covering cyber warfare, cyber security, information warfare, and information security technologies, products, contracts, and procurement opportunities

Defense Executive

Monthly newsletter covering business news and strategic insights for executive managers

Electronic Warfare

Quarterly newsletter covering technologies and applications in electronic warfare, cyber warfare, optical warfare, and spectrum warfare.

Embedded Computing Report

Monthly newsletter covering news on embedded computing in aerospace, defense and industrial-rugged applications

Unmanned Vehicles

Monthly newsletter covering news updates for designers of unmanned vehicles