By Jake Davis

Disusage presents the contradictions and foibles of usage manuals, style guides, and the quirky folks who love them. This week: making use of “usage.”

usage, use, user. Those who write usage or user when they mean no more than use must be presumed to do so for one of two bad reasons: that they prefer either the longer word to the shorter (see LONG VARIANTS) or the unusual one to the common (see WORKING AND STYLISH WORDS). Usage implies a manner of using (e.g. harsh usage), especially of habitual or customary practice creating a right or standard (modern English usage). An example of its misuse is There is a serious shortage of X-ray films due to increasing usage in all countriesUser is a legal word for use (exercise of a right) and should be left to the lawyers.
Fowler’s Modern English Usage, 2nd edition, 1965

Definition of USAGE
1 a : firmly established and generally accepted practice or procedure
   b : a uniform certain reasonable lawful practice existing in a particular locality or occupation and binding persons entering into transactions chiefly on the basis of presumed familiarity
   c : the way in which words and phrases are actually used (as in a particular form or sense) in a language community
2 a : the action, amount, or mode of using <a decreased usage of electricity>
   b : manner of treating
Merriam-Webster's Collegiate Dictionary, 11th Edition 

“No matter what Merriam-Webster says I will continue to keen histrionically about ‘usage.’ Just say use, I say.”
—Internet user Olli Baker, commenting on “When Words Were Worth Fighting Over,” an article by Geoff Nunberg on NPR’s website.

Have an aspect of usage you want examined? Email me.


Image: historic photo from the New York City Municipal Archive, via the Atlantic