USAGE: “1. the action of using something or the fact of being used; 2. the way in which a word or phrase is normally and correctly used; 3. habitual or customary practice” — New Oxford American Dictionary
UTILIZE: “make practical and effective use of: vitamin C helps your body utilize the iron present in your diet.” — Ibid.
Of all the online submissions to Lexicide, usage and utilize seemed to have raised the most hackles. We have avoided addressing these usages because the subtleties are beyond the understanding of most corporate zombies. If that strikes you as a tad supercilious, I remind you that this is the crowd who thinks FYI stands for “just in case.”
But the fans have spoken, so here goes… Usage, according to most sources, refers to standard practices (language usage) or ongoing deployment (water usage). If you speak of singular events (the speech made good use of analogies) or deployments with a beginning and an end (bandwidth use in April was double what it was in March), then use use.
Likewise, utilize is not an all-purpose synonym for use in the verb form. It means “to make practical and effective use of,” as in “we utilize our turnkey technology platform to increase efficiency.” See? I used it in a weasely corporate-speak sentence, but I used it correctly. It is not correct to say an employee should utilize a procedure or best practice, or that a client should utilize his browser to access a website. Even worse to claim your company utilizes effectively or best utilizes something — both are redundant.
When in doubt — and doubt you should — use use. Use use. I’ll say it again: use use. The best thing about simple words is they are usually correct. In all the examples above, use works, even if usage or utilize is also on the money. But use is too direct, too active and too understandable, so it’s out. Which explains why sysadmins now have “clients” instead of “users.”
— Otto E. Mezzo
Vaguely related to usage is signage, which refers not to signs but to a system of signs — a store has eye-catching signage, except for some signs that need to be updated. I remember when the suffix age threatened the business world until people came to their senses and realized shrinkage and tonnage sounded okay, but costage and profitage were not going to fly. Still, my colleague received an email once that asked her to reduce her lineage. The department puzzled over why the client was concerned with her ancestry until we realized with horror what the client was requesting — to reduce the number of lines of copy in an ad.