I’ve often written about the tendency to use bigger words when smaller ones are actually more communicative. I blame it on a desire to sound more educated and impressive (and I think it goes back to those papers we wrote in high school and college, when we tried to mask our failure to read the assignment by digging deep into the thesaurus).

One common mistake is to substitute the word “service” for its close cousin “serve.” Instead of saying “we serve our customers with a smile,” we see “we service our customers with a smile.” Rather than “thanks for the opportunity to serve you,” it’s “thanks for the opportunity to service you.” In place of “we served 10,000 customers last year,” we get “we serviced 10,000 customers last year.” No big deal, you say?

I have to disagree. For one thing, the verb form of “service” doesn’t mean exactly the same thing as “serve.”  In most cases, “serve” is the more accurate choice.

But there’s a bigger reason. For many decades, “service” has been used as a colloquialism for providing sexual favors to another person. While it’s less common today than it was two decades ago, the phrase “I serviced him last week” has a completely different meaning to far more people than you may realize. Go back to the examples I mentioned in the second paragraph, see how they sound with that meaning, and you’ll understand why I urge you to never to use “service” in place of “serve” again.