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Old 06-11-2019, 04:15 PM
Danger Man is offline
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What does the word epicenter mean?


I know the dictionary says:

«the point on the earth's surface vertically above the focus of an earthquake«

But there are other usages too. To me it seems that it is sometimes used to replace the word center, but egen exactly is it used. Does it have a specific meaning?
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Old 06-11-2019, 04:22 PM
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I think it's basically used for a geographical location to show the center (for lack of a better word) from where things spread. Epicenter of an earthquake, epicenter of a disease outbreak etc.
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Old 06-11-2019, 04:48 PM
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Its expanded use as a synonym for center is probably related to the widely held belief that more syllables are better than fewer syllables.
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Old 06-11-2019, 04:54 PM
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Don't you mean that polysesquipedsyllabic words are better?
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Old 06-11-2019, 05:04 PM
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"Epi" it still a preposition, though, so it cannot be completely synonymous with "center". People refer to "the centre of the Earth", not the "epicenter of the Earth".
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Old 06-11-2019, 05:10 PM
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"Epicenter" is a technical term that people hear in reference to a geographic location related to large and disastrous events - earthquakes. It's natural that it gets applied in a non-technical sense to refer to geographic locations related to other large and disastrous events like epidemics, etc.
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Old 06-11-2019, 05:10 PM
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London is home base for some serious designer labels, including Stella McCartney, Burberry, Temperley, Vivienne Westwood, and the late Alexander McQueen, and plays host to London Fashion Week, the fashion epicenter for designers, magazines, ​photographers, buyers, and stylists.
https://www.thebalancecareers.com/th...-world-2379483
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Old 06-11-2019, 05:12 PM
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"Epicenter" is a technical term that people hear in reference to a geographic location related to large and disastrous events - earthquakes. It's natural that it gets applied in a non-technical sense to refer to geographic locations related to other large and disastrous events like epidemics, etc.
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Have you seen those clothes. What a disaster!
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Old 06-11-2019, 05:59 PM
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"Epi" it still a preposition, though, so it cannot be completely synonymous with "center". People refer to "the centre of the Earth", not the "epicenter of the Earth".
"In" is a preposition, and "flammable" and "inflammable" mean the same thing.

Not sure you meant preposition rather than prefix, so I'll add "ravel" and "Unravel" mean the same thing. As do "loose" and "unloose" and "thaw" and "unthaw".
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Old 06-11-2019, 06:09 PM
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You're right; we should say it is a prefix derived from a preposition. Not eo ipso, but nevertheless, "epicenter" is not just another word for "center". I agree with Andy L's analysis.

ETA nor does "demic" equal "epidemic"...

Last edited by DPRK; 06-11-2019 at 06:11 PM.
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Old 06-11-2019, 06:24 PM
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Originally Posted by every source in the world
epi- WORD ORIGIN. a prefix occurring in loanwords from Greek, where it meant “upon,” “on,” “over,” “near,” “at,” “before,” “after”.
The center of the earthquake is usually deep in the earth. The general population generally doesn't travel miles below the earth, we're much more interested in where the effects peaked on the surface of the earth. In other words, the epicenter - "above center". AKA "surface zero".

Compare with nuclear weapons, which we normally expect to burst in the air. The physical aerial center of such a burst is meaningless to humans, but we are very concerned about the area directly below the event - the hypocenter, or "below center". AKA "ground zero".

So that's what 'epicenter' and 'hypocenter' are all about.

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Old 06-11-2019, 07:26 PM
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As an aside for nuclear weapons, "ground zero" is not necessarily very close to the blast, if the blast was at very high altitudes. There have been tests where scientists were standing right at ground zero to make measurements.
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Old 06-11-2019, 08:12 PM
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I think "epi" something means "on top of" something. An epicenter for an earthquake is the point on the surface of the earth that is on top of the location the earthquake happens down inside the earth.
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Old 06-11-2019, 08:21 PM
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What others have said. Technicall, the epicentre is the point on a plane nearest to a given point that is off the plain. The word (in this sense) dates only from about 1880.

But it pretty soon developed a looser, secondary sense: a centre of activity, energy, or disturbance. This is recorded as early as 1908.
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Old 06-12-2019, 05:11 AM
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"In" is a preposition, and "flammable" and "inflammable" mean the same thing.

Not sure you meant preposition rather than prefix, so I'll add "ravel" and "Unravel" mean the same thing. As do "loose" and "unloose" and "thaw" and "unthaw".
Flammable was a word invented to resolve the confusion by those who misunderstood the word to mean its opposite. Non-inflammable is also rather clumsy for such an important distinction, so "flammable" and "non-flammable" were coined.
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Old 06-12-2019, 07:11 AM
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I think "epi" something means "on top of" something. An epicenter for an earthquake is the point on the surface of the earth that is on top of the location the earthquake happens down inside the earth.
We need not "think" about these things. There is an actual formal meaning for "epi-", and it's this:

Quote:
1.
upon.
"epigraph"

2.
above.
"epicontinental"
Epidermis is the outermost layer of skin. Epitaxial growth is the deposition of new crystalline material on an existing layer. Epistaxis is a nosebleed (meaning basically "to drip from above").
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Old 06-12-2019, 09:03 AM
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Since the word was coined by seismologists, the "vertical point on surface above the actual earthquake focus" is the proper meaning.

Using "epicentre" when you mean "centre" is just dumb. The same flavour of dumb that says "utilize" when "use" is right there.
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Old 06-12-2019, 09:14 AM
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We need not "think" about these things. There is an actual formal meaning for "epi-", and it's this:

Only two? The old Greek-English dictionary gives well over a dozen meanings.
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Old 06-12-2019, 09:48 AM
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Using "epicentre" when you mean "centre" is just dumb. The same flavour of dumb that says "utilize" when "use" is right there.
Not always. Some people metaphorically use 'seismic' to mean 'major' or 'significant' for things that aren't literally earthquakes. Substituting 'epicenter' for 'center' can be a similar thing.

But to be clear, 'epicenter' only has one literal meaning, and it's the point on the earth's surface above the center of some subsurface event, which is always (I think always) an earthquake.

Last edited by HMS Irruncible; 06-12-2019 at 09:49 AM.
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Old 06-12-2019, 10:05 AM
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Using "epicentre" when you mean "centre" is just dumb. The same flavour of dumb that says "utilize" when "use" is right there.
Because it is used to describe earthquakes, "epicenter" to me has a connotation of something dynamic happening, with its effects emanating outwards from that point and affecting surrounding areas. "Center" is just an indicator of a central point, which could be inactive, inert or static.
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Old 06-12-2019, 10:21 AM
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Seriously? People are asking for metaphorical extensions of scientific terms to make literal sense? Haven't we been through this in a million threads?

Language doesn't give a rip about logic or rationality or original usages. People use epicenter to mean center or, more specifically, the place from which stuff emanates, because they like the sound of it. That's all that matters.

And it is an accepted part of the language. This very good column on epicenter quoted the American Heritage Dictionary usage panel on the usage.

Quote:
Usage Note: Epicenter is properly a geological term identifying the point of the earth’s surface directly above the focus of an earthquake. No doubt this is why the Usage Panel approves of figurative extensions of its use in dangerous, destructive, or negative contexts. In our 2008 survey, 74 percent accepted the sentence identifying a country as the epicenter for terrorist financing. The Panel is less fond but still accepting of epicenter when it is used to refer to the focal point of neutral or positive events. Fifty percent approved of the word in a sentence identifying New York City as the epicenter of European immigration. These percentages are both down a little from those in our 1996 survey, but not significantly.
Can epicenter be used wrongly, even in this loose metaphorical sense? Sure. As soon as a word enters the language somebody somewhere will use it wrongly.

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“Russia has positioned itself at the epicenter of global politics” is a terrible use. One doesn’t position oneself at an epicenter after the fact: the word best describes an active propagation. One doesn’t move to an epicenter, reacting to change, one is an epicenter, causing that change. In this case, the writer has simply added two syllables (“epi“) when center is what was meant. That’s weak, fluffy writing that shouldn’t have slipped through, and the weight that epicenter could (or should) have brought to bear was lost. Epicenter doesn’t belong in this sentence, but if you have to use it a better construction would have been something like “Russia has become the epicenter of national identity politics” or “Russia’s policies have unexpectedly made it the epicenter of global politics.” The point is that these rephrasings make Russia an active player, one which causes change that then ripples outward, not an entity which merely reacts to a state of affairs.
You see the wonderful subtlety in that? Despite being a loose metaphor that separates its meaning from the formal scientific original, epicenter as a place of origin still has an implied rule of it own: it describes a source for something that emerged, not a deliberate placement. Users, therefore, have a shared understanding of the meaning of the metaphor and err only when they try a second extension that violates that shared understanding. Will the second extension become a standard usage of its own someday? Possibly. But not today.

[rant]And that's why descriptivism works while prescriptivism doesn't. Prescriptivists wouldn't allow epicenter as a metaphor in the first place. Descriptivists acknowledge one - useful - extension of the language but caution that a second extension is not yet part of good writers' vocabularies. That adds to knowledge rather than subtracts from it, as prescriptivism does.[/rant]
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Old 06-12-2019, 11:25 AM
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As an aside for nuclear weapons, "ground zero" is not necessarily very close to the blast, if the blast was at very high altitudes. There have been tests where scientists were standing right at ground zero to make measurements.
I don't want to be the epicenter of attention, but I'd like to see a cite for that one. I'm thinking that they were in a bunker but damn, who volunteers for that?
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Old 06-12-2019, 12:02 PM
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always (I think always) an earthquake.
No, it could also be an underground explosion.
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Old 06-12-2019, 12:08 PM
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[rant]And that's why descriptivism works while prescriptivism doesn't. Prescriptivists wouldn't allow epicenter as a metaphor in the first place. Descriptivists acknowledge one - useful - extension of the language but caution that a second extension is not yet part of good writers' vocabularies. That adds to knowledge rather than subtracts from it, as prescriptivism does.[/rant]
I'm not a prescriptivist - I'm fine for using epicentre where it fits metaphorically - for something dynamic and dangerous - I'm OK with "The epicentre of the Ebola outbreak", say.

Just using where centre is perfectly fine, like : "London is the epicentre of fashion", remains dumb. Not prescriptivist, just dumb language. Trying to be cool and failing miserably. It's not a question of "allowing" usage, it's a question of judging the aesthetics of that usage after the fact.
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Old 06-12-2019, 12:23 PM
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No, it could also be an underground explosion.
I think it would definitely be appropriate to speak of the 'epicenter' of an underground explosion, but I personally have never heard of anybody doing that.
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Old 06-12-2019, 12:34 PM
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Flammable was a word invented to resolve the confusion by those who misunderstood the word to mean its opposite. Non-inflammable is also rather clumsy for such an important distinction, so "flammable" and "non-flammable" were coined.
So? All words were coined at one time or another.
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Old 06-12-2019, 01:07 PM
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Old 06-12-2019, 01:15 PM
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I'm not a prescriptivist - I'm fine for using epicentre where it fits metaphorically - for something dynamic and dangerous - I'm OK with "The epicentre of the Ebola outbreak", say.

Just using where centre is perfectly fine, like : "London is the epicentre of fashion", remains dumb. Not prescriptivist, just dumb language. Trying to be cool and failing miserably. It's not a question of "allowing" usage, it's a question of judging the aesthetics of that usage after the fact.
I disagree. I would say that all of these are using epicenter to indicate the location of highest intensity, whether its Ebola or Fashion. This matches to a large extent the scientifically correct usage with regard to earthquakes. The reason people are interested in where the epicenter of the earthquake is, is so that they know where the earthquake was most intense.
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Old 06-12-2019, 02:52 PM
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The same flavour of dumb that says "utilize" when "use" is right there.
I'm from the school that says "use" and "utilize" do not have precisely the same meaning. When writing I usually think carefully about which one to choose. "Utilize" suggests using in a positive way. I can use someone's ignorance to cheat them, but my body utilizes the nutrients in my food to repair wounds.

If we eliminate the word "utilize" from the lexicon because "use" will do, we've just destroyed a bit of English's capability for expressing nuance. It's like saying we shouldn't use the words "scarlet" or "vermillion" because "red" will do. In some circumstances, yes, "red" might very well be a writer's wisest choice. But we should keep the other words around for situations where they are a better fit.
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Old 06-12-2019, 03:09 PM
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If we eliminate the word "utilize" from the lexicon because "use" will do, we've just destroyed a bit of English's capability for expressing nuance. It's like saying we shouldn't use the words "scarlet" or "vermillion" because "red" will do. In some circumstances, yes, "red" might very well be a writer's wisest choice. But we should keep the other words around for situations where they are a better fit.
You don't think we should just whittle it down to the ten hundred words people use the most often?
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Old 06-12-2019, 03:46 PM
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I'm not a prescriptivist - I'm fine for using epicentre where it fits metaphorically - for something dynamic and dangerous - I'm OK with "The epicentre of the Ebola outbreak", say.

Just using where centre is perfectly fine, like : "London is the epicentre of fashion", remains dumb. Not prescriptivist, just dumb language. Trying to be cool and failing miserably. It's not a question of "allowing" usage, it's a question of judging the aesthetics of that usage after the fact.
Epicenter's metaphorical use did start with dynamic or dangerous. Call that stage 1. It then went well beyond.

You're at stage 1. Other good writers have taken it at least to stage 2. A stage 3 may be upon us soon.

The issue for both readers and writers is how these stages are considered. There is a vast difference between "I wouldn't use stage 2 myself" and "I think anybody who uses stage 2 is dumb."

That's where prescriptivists get a foot in the door. They might say that nobody should use epicenter metaphorically, i.e., stick to stage 0, or else bend a bit and say that it's allowable to go to stage 1 because everybody agrees that it is acceptable - and therefore it is invisible. Invisible usage is usage that no one would ever mark you down for. It's safe, and uncontroversial, and conservative.

Strictly adhered to, the language would simply stagnate if everyone obeyed those edicts. That would be fine with them. It's not the way language works and it would be detrimental to the language long-term but it's never actually wrong. Better never to be wrong than to be interesting.

Real-world language accrues thousands of these extended meanings over time. No two people ever agree which set of extensions is correct. (I'd argue that includes prescriptivists, which makes them unconscious hypocrites, another reason to reject the stance.) Worse, some extensions start off as true solecisms and become accepted over time, which infuriates just about everybody. (And some supposed solecisms, like split infinitives, are and always have been perfectly acceptable, except to troubled minds.)

It's all a mess and always will be. I already made the important point: Real-world language accrues thousands of these extended meanings over time. Accept that, and the rest goes down much easier.
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Old 06-12-2019, 05:48 PM
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[...] The same flavour of dumb that says "utilize" when "use" is right there.
How about "at this juncture of maturization" when "now" is right there? That's pure genius dumb, there.
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Old 06-12-2019, 10:34 PM
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I don't want to be the epicenter of attention, but I'd like to see a cite for that one. I'm thinking that they were in a bunker but damn, who volunteers for that?
He got the story basically right, but they were volunteer military officers and not scientists.

https://www.npr.org/sections/krulwic...g-nuclear-bomb


It was a contrived test. Note that the bomb was relatively small, and the explosion was set quite high. My relatives in Southern and Central Utah would have received more radiation from the fallout.

Bombs in a real attack would be much lower and much stronger. Being on ground zero is not the right place.

This is another example of something half remembered being taken out of context.
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Old 06-13-2019, 12:20 AM
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The misuse of "epicenter" to mean just "center" reminds me a bit of how some people use "penultimate" to mean just "ultimate".

One can only wonder what they would make of an "epi-pen".
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Old 06-13-2019, 03:49 AM
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"Utilize" suggests using in a positive way. I
That's definitely not my association with the word. I associate it with overly verbose technical language such as military procedure manuals. It also smacks of the writing of aspirational second-language Commonwealth speakers.
So when I see "utilize", I expect to see the writer is either a Marine cook writing about using a cooking stove, or a civil servant in Mumbai or Nairobi writing about using a taxi...nothing particularly positive there.


Maybe you associate it with positivity because you don't interact with too may second-language Colonial English speakers? I always find their word choices stilted and too formal.

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Old 06-13-2019, 03:51 AM
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How about "at this juncture of maturization" when "now" is right there? That's pure genius dumb, there.
I'm still railing against the all-too-common "at this moment in time", myself.
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Old 06-13-2019, 10:11 AM
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He got the story basically right, but they were volunteer military officers and not scientists.

https://www.npr.org/sections/krulwic...g-nuclear-bomb


It was a contrived test. Note that the bomb was relatively small, and the explosion was set quite high. My relatives in Southern and Central Utah would have received more radiation from the fallout.

Bombs in a real attack would be much lower and much stronger. Being on ground zero is not the right place.

This is another example of something half remembered being taken out of context.
I think "contrived" is overstating it.

It was the only test firing of a nuclear-armed air-to-air weapon. Having volunteers under the detonation point would demonstrate something useful: that nuking Soviet bomber formations would not also be nuking Canadians beneath the combat.
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Old 06-13-2019, 10:22 AM
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I'm from the school that says "use" and "utilize" do not have precisely the same meaning. When writing I usually think carefully about which one to choose. "Utilize" suggests using in a positive way. I can use someone's ignorance to cheat them, but my body utilizes the nutrients in my food to repair wounds.

If we eliminate the word "utilize" from the lexicon because "use" will do, we've just destroyed a bit of English's capability for expressing nuance. It's like saying we shouldn't use the words "scarlet" or "vermillion" because "red" will do. In some circumstances, yes, "red" might very well be a writer's wisest choice. But we should keep the other words around for situations where they are a better fit.
Utilize's early history is one of positives. A Google Book search shows that while a simple "use" could probably be substituted, there's a shading of meaning that implies a more technical process is at work.

Quote:
Annual Report of the Wisconsin State Horticultural Society ...
https://books.google.com/books?id=amomAQAAMAAJ
Wisconsin State Horticultural Society - 1878 - ‎Read - ‎More editions
HOW BEST TO UTILIZE OUR FRUIT. J . S. STICKNEY, Wanwxrosa. Our memory reaches easily to the time when we were studying anxiously how to get fruit to utilize,' and over a large part of our fair state this is still the great question.

Annual Report - Volumes 11-14 - Page 225
https://books.google.com/books?id=Jnyv47HDEPgC
Ohio. State Board of Agriculture. Farmers Institutes - 1901 - ‎Read - ‎More editions
Another thing which I have attempted to utilize in the construction of my own barn is the force of gravity or gravitation. I utilize that rorce in several ways; first by making the barn a bank barn as shown in Figs. 2 and 4. Then you drive in on the ...

Medical Record - Page 17
https://books.google.com/books?id=RcY-AQAAMAAJ
1903 - ‎Read - ‎More editions
The gist of the author's further remarks “as as follows: Although in the early stages excess of sugar in the urine and blood is very largely due to the failure of the body to utilize the sugar, in many cases the power to utilize sugar is not ...

Congressional Record: Proceedings and Debates of the ... Congress
https://books.google.com/books?id=CstIuj4zpSkC
United States. Congress - 1896 - ‎Read - ‎More editions
Under the law as it now stands, if the Secretary had in the vaults of the Treasury for this building four million or forty million dollars, he could not utilize it for the employment of this supervising architect without the power that we propose to give ...
The counter to this explanation is that these and other early uses almost uniformly appear in formal proceedings, where a longer and more impressive word might be favored over a plain, ordinary one. And if people saw utilize only in this context, later users (utilizers?) might naturally assume that they could impress with it as well, a vicious cycle.
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Old 06-13-2019, 11:44 AM
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If I hear of someone using drugs, I think that I should Just Say No. If I hear of someone utilizing drugs, I wonder what medical condition they're treating. So I think that CairoCarol probably has a point.
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Old 06-13-2019, 08:01 PM
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There is a use/utilize distinction. "Utlise" puts the focus on the thing made use of; it is rendered useful, or turned to account. "I utilized the fruit to make jam" suggests that the fruit might perhaps otherwise have gone to waste, and points to my productivity and resourcefulness in preventing this from happening.
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Old 06-13-2019, 11:34 PM
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"Use" looks bad to us because of the euphemism treadmill, where it took the same path as what led us to the English word "rape." So "use" is a degrading kind of making-into-purpose, like when you use a pencil eraser and it goes away. And "to make use of" distances us further from either, and it makes you sound more manipulative to say it that way than the others. "Utilize" kind of sucks, but you have to 'utilize' it in technical writing or whatever. (There are no good options here.) And still--they're diverging, and not giving us enough words that we have for one that sounds neutral, all deriving from the same font.

Like, what?

You don't have to worry about descript/prescript; it's already settled there. If you don't know how to use a word without avoiding shades of meaning, you shouldn't use words. Use a different phrase. Talk different. There's always a different way to say. "I found this utilious" = "I had this in my pocket" or whatever. Be creative.
  #42  
Old 06-14-2019, 07:19 AM
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I can't agree. "Use" has no negative connotation. I use public transport to get to work. I use internet and phone banking for the convenience. "Utilize", by contrast, nearly always sound pretentious or over-engineered. There are very few contexts in which "utilize" is an improvement over "use".
  #43  
Old 06-14-2019, 09:02 AM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by UDS View Post
"I utilized the fruit to make jam" suggests that the fruit might perhaps otherwise have gone to waste, and points to my productivity and resourcefulness in preventing this from happening.
That is really not the interpretation I would take from that sentence. All I would get from it is "second-language speaker". Because those are the only people I regularly encounter who use the word that way.
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