Contemporary Secular Usage

It is clear from this analysis that the word “use” and its cognates are relatively rare in the Bible. However, this is not the case in contemporary English. In order to investigate the dimensions of meanings, and the frequency of these meanings, it was decided to analyse its occurrences in a set of newspapers in the UK. Whilst this would not give a complete picture, such as would be gained by also looking at other repositories of English such as novels, film, TV, plays, or blogs, it has the advantage of being easily searchable.

Eight titles, made available through the InfoTrac Database, were analysed with a variety of searches. (Appendix F) Due to the high frequency of “use” a two phase approach was utilised. Firstly, the unique occurrences of “use” and “used” on a single day (01/03/2010) were identified. Secondly, articles published in 2010, where the phrases “can use” or “will use”, were in the keywords field in the database were also identified. From these occurrences, the examples where the verb had a person as its object were identified, and the percentage of the total occurrences was calculated. (Table A)

Table A

TotalPerson as object of verb
can use7623%
will use10222%

* Excluded from this count are several instances of “Subs not used” in match reports.

As can be seen from this analysis, it is clear that, in contemporary English, the object of the verb “to use” is very rarely a person. However, there are circumstances where it is, so what are these circumstances?

Of the twenty three occurrences noted, seven referred to the deployment of sports people. For instance “Frank Rijkaard used the left-footed Lionel Messi on the right side.” (Guardian Sports Pages, 01/03/2010, p.2) Four appeared in stories to do with slavery or exploitation “Apple admits that child labour was used at its assembly plants in China.” (Daily Telegraph, 01/03/2010, p.8) Three described the relationship between a client and a medical professional “Tim and Gisela Liardet … used the same surgeon.” (Daily Telegraph, 01/03/2010, p.28) Two occurred in discussions of the employment of politicians in election campaigning. The remaining seven defied classification, but were all ambivalent or carried a sense of the objectification of the people being used. For instance “The four used alleged accomplices at now-defunct Essex-based Montague Mason Solicitors to submit false paperwork.” (Daily Mail, 01/03/2010, p.61)

One common phrase that did not come up in this search was any reference to “feeling used”. As part of the rationale for this piece of work was the dissonance that I felt between the suggestion that God uses people and the prevalence of this phrase in common discourse, a further search on articles written since 01/01/2009, employing the phrases “felt used” or “feels used” was made.

Of the fifteen examples identified, four related to sports professionals “’They described how excited they were to turn professional, but after a couple of years they felt used and abused.” (Mail on Sunday, 24/05/2009, p.73) I believe that this demonstrates that the description of sports people being used in games is not neutral, there is a real sense in which they are viewed, and view themselves, as impersonal tools. Five instances related to manipulative or abusive personal relationships “I felt used and violated, like I meant nothing to him but a night of casual sex. I wanted to dig a hole, crawl in and die.” (Daily Mail, 09/04/2010, p.13) A further three described dysfunctional working relationships in other professions.

Of the remaining three, two were of particular interest. The first was a review of a remake of television programme “The Prisoner”. The reviewer writes “She looks blankly up at you as if to say “I feel used” and really, The Prisoner has been used.” (Guardian, 17/04/2010, p.52) The power of the invective lies in the knowledge, held to be common, that it is unacceptable to use a woman, and therefore it is wrong to use the original programme by cashing in on a remake. The second occurred in response to a reader’s question to an agony column “Am I alone in being plagued by non-driving friends who manipulate me into ‘offering’ lifts?” (Guardian Money Pages, 14/03/2009, p2) One of the reader responses was “If you find it difficult to ask up front I suggest you ask a close associate to have a word, suggesting that you feel used …” Here it is worth noting the assumption that “feeling used” is a synonym for “being manipulated”.

In this analysis we have seen that in contemporary English the verb “to use” does not occur often with a person as its object. Where it does occur in this way, the sense of the person being an object is carried over from the majority usage. There is very little evidence for a positive usage of this construction, and significant evidence for its negative usage.

No Comments

Leave a Reply

Your email is never shared.Required fields are marked *