Someone (who may be watching too much television) recently opined that the word TOOLS suddenly became ubiquitous when beefy construction workers started showing up as the stars of TV commercials. All at once, it was alleged, every useful thing was re-christened a TOOL, and any collection of practical methods, standard procedures, or handy resources was fashionably described as a TOOL BELT or TOOLKIT.
We harbor no doubts about the corrupting power of TV commercials over all intellectual pursuits in this country. And certainly tools has become unbearably trendy at the moment, for whatever reason. That is sufficient to make it a cliché, surely. But it’s hard to imagine an argument for condemning this humble word as jargon. Those who use it are simply making the (refreshingly honest) acknowledgement that their favorite techniques, processes, and rigmaroles are really just means to an end, and are only as good as the person who uses them.
The word is sometimes used, it’s true, to refer evasively to some collection of things that are supposedly useful but conveniently unidentified. But that same charge can be leveled against many other plural words and phrases like “methods,” “procedures,” and the ubiquitous BEST PRACTICES. The only real reason to avoid tools is that practically everyone is using it, and (like the TV commercials that may have boosted its popularity) it is quickly becoming tiresome.