You probably don’t want to “service” people

One of the subjects I discuss most often is 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 college, when we tried to mask our ignorance by digging deep into the thesaurus).

One of the most amusing examples is when people mistakenly use the verb “service” when they should be using “serve.” Rather than say the simple “we served 5,000 customers this month,” they take what think is the more impressive route, and write “we serviced 5,000 customers this month.” Instead of telling employees to “serve the customers with a smile,” they urge them to “service the customers with a smile.”

You think I’m just being picky, don’t you? Actually, there’s a very good reason to avoid using the word “service” in this matter. Another common definition of “service” is providing sexual favors to someone else. That meaning derives largely from agriculture, where a famer who is seeking a larger herd will hire a stud bull to service his cows.

Now that you know what it means to “service” someone, go back and reread the examples I provided. Is that something you want to say to people? Do you want your employees making those statements with a great deal of pride? No, I didn’t think so.