If you split hairs, you can argue there is a use for utilize that differentiates it from use. In the Oxford English Dictionary it’s all pretty circular:
- Utilise: To make or render useful; to convert to use, turn to account.
- Use: To put to practical use; esp. to make use of in accomplishing a task.
You could get into variants, inflections, and origins. But it’s not worth it. In academic writing I don’t think people do that. I think they use utilize when they are committing puffery (“The action or practice of ‘puffing’ someone or something; extravagant or undeserved praise, esp. for advertising or promotional purposes; writing, etc., intended to have this effect.”)
So it is with heavy heart that I report what could be a comeback for utilize, or at least a stall in the course of its demise. I have this from two sources. First, from the JSTOR academic database:
Both show a rise of utilize from obscurity to a peak in the 1970s. Note the peak in academia is about twice as high as the peak in the general collection, at 10.7% compared with 5.3%. But both showed very promising declines until the early 2000s. In retrospect, we see the decline was slowing already in the 1990s. We should have been more vigilant.
Maybe this is just a reversal of progress toward pretending we are above excessive puffery. Which I think is a shame.
This all has something to do with this passage from the chapter titled, “Is a Disinterested Act Possible?” in Practical Reason by Pierre Bourdieu (including the length of the sentence itself):