Posts Tagged ‘effectuate’

As a linguist, I always try to remain descriptive about language rather than prescriptive. Some things still bug me.

I can’t stand the word ‘utilize’ instead of ‘use’. But I did just look it up, and it turns out that ‘utilize’ means ‘to use in a way other than intended’ as in “He often utilized a broom handle against the plaster to decide if a ceiling could be vaulted.” Thus, a very handy word.

Today I heard the word ‘effectuate’ used over and over in a radio interview: “He’s a politician with a remarkable ability to effectuate change.” Does this word come from ‘(in)effectual’? I’d never heard it before, and it appears to mean ‘to effect.’

These things annoy me, so I just have to remember to be a linguist. Who uses the word or phrase in question? In what contexts? Do both variants occur in one person’s idiolect? If so, what’s the distribution?

Thinking this way makes me happier. It helped a lot when I was irked with the widespread use of ‘like’ about 20 years ago. I think its use has changed now, but when I started to observe it and to write down examples and their contexts, it was immediately clear that it functioned very often as a quotative in at least three ways:

  • What I said (“and I was like, can I have some more pizza?”)
  • What I wish I’d said’ (“The teacher asked me to leave, and I was like, you are a f—ing idiot!”)
  • A sound or gesture I made or wished I’d made (“I was like, [gagging sound]” or “I was like, [finger down throat]”)

Isn’t that more interesting than being grumpy about how often people use the word ‘like’? I’d better start paying attention to ‘effectuate.’

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