Words Have Meanings

Words have meanings. I know, that’s even more obvious than most of the stuff you read here. But today, as a special gift to you, there’s a twist.

I don’t mean that words have definitions. They do, of course, but that’s not what I’m talking about. I’m talking about meaning beyond definition. Stop being coy, you say?


“We utilized the hose to cool our ankles.”

“We used the hose to cool our ankles.”

I’d say that the definitions of “use” and “utilize” in that sentence are exactly the same. But they carry different meanings. The person using utilize is probably trying to appear to be official, smart, formal, businesslike, and articulate.

Of course, to me, “utilize” sounds worse, and I’d never use it when “use” would work as well. I’d rather aid communication than sound smart. But then, my job is to communicate, whereas other peoples’ jobs are to sound smart.

Now that I’ve given an example, I probably don’t have to give any more. So I won’t.

But you get the idea. Words have definitions and they have meanings beyond those definitions. What are you trying to say?

One Response to Words Have Meanings

  1. Jeffrey May 26, 2010 at 1:14 am #

    If you use “impact” as a verb, you’re probably trying to sound official, but to me, you just sound officious.

    Another meaning is when people won’t tell you what’s up, instead using lots of verbs: “We intend to focus on developing a plan to X” instead of “We will X.” The meaning is “we are official.”

    Welcome to my (editing) world!

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