Writing Instruments vs. Utensils
February 24, 2013
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This is something that caught my attention in this week’s Target newspaper ad. They had mechanical pencils on sale, and also noted that “all other writing utensils” were 20% or whatever. This kind of grammar nonsense gets my goat, especially since I was wearing my new Woot “Costa Nostra Grammatica: Every Time You Miss a Typo, the Errorists Win” shirt.
While “utensil” and “instrument” in general terms, according to the dictionary, are largely interchangeable, here’s how I’ve always used them:
- Utensils are tools or implements with which generic tasks are performed. Spoons are utensils because they don’t require precision to use. With spoons you can stir, scoop, mix, etc.
- Instruments are used to perform precision tasks. Pencils are used for writing, and writing doesn’t involve just scribbling all over the page. It takes skill to use an instrument, and instruments for the most part only perform one specific function.
In short, here’s the example I gave my wife while explaining why I was mumbling to myself at the Target ad: Would you rather have your doctor use a surgical instrument on you, or a surgical utensil?