A Few Words

“Utilize” is just plain bad.

Columns From: 1/3/2002 Modern Machine Shop, ,

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Peter Zelinski

First a disclosure: More than once, I have used “utilization” in the pages of this magazine.

Now set aside that admission for a moment. The topic I want to address is precision.

Not machining precision—though this is the most important kind of precision in any shop. Instead, I mean precision in choosing the right word. My work (writing) leaves me alert to this precision, while I am never asked to make a part. That means I get off easy, because manufacturing engineers and managers often do have to write effectively.

I get to read the reports, presentations and proposals they create as I research the companies I write about. And in these documents, certain word choices pop up repeatedly. In fact, three questionable choices seem prevalent.

What I have to say here won’t ever help you machine better. But let me offer what small help I can:

1. “Impact” has more impact as a noun. Technically it’s OK to use this word as a verb, but in practice, the overused verb has lost all impact. When tempted to say something like “The new maintenance schedule will impact our productivity,” consider whether affect, determine, influence, increase, reduce or some other more specific verb may in fact be the word you’re looking for.

2. “Myself” is none other than “I” or “me.” This one occurs in oral presentations and official documents. Believing they shouldn’t use personal pronouns in formal writing or speech, some are inclined to use this word as a more formal-sounding substitute. For example: “The customer met with Sarah and myself.” Myself does have its proper place, but this isn’t it. Much better to say “Sarah and I met with the customer,” or “The customer met with Sarah and me.”

3. “Utilize” is just plain bad. There is no reason ever to use this word. We have a noble little word in our language that can serve as either noun or verb, depending on whether the “s” is soft or hard. That word is use.

Insecure about using such a tiny word, we are tempted to believe a fancy word like utilize can better convey the idea.

It can’t. Granted, the sister word utilization is hard to avoid in an industry where “machine utilization” is a common phrase, but even this word lacks a sense of confidence. Instead of “Third shift will utilize the drill press,” say “Third shift will use the drill press.” And instead of “machine tool utilization,” be proud to say “machine tool use.”

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