Although not everyone will agree with us, we at languageandgrammar.com believe that language subtlety is important. Thoughts are precise, and a lack of subtlety in language usage is often a reflection of a lack of sharpness of thought.
That brings me to today’s topic—the word upgrade. If you’ve watched any of the dozens of shows about buying and selling houses, then you have heard people speak of appliances that need to be upgraded often. A more accurate statement would be to say that the appliances need to be replaced. Home owners either want appliances that look better, work better, or can’t be cleaned of finger prints (Stainless Steel Appliances); they don’t want the current appliances to be improved, which is what the word upgrade means.
A computer is often upgraded; memory can be added to an existing computer, improving it. Replacing a burnt orange oven (with burned-on grease from 1975) with a restaurant quality oven from 2009, however, is a death sentence for the old oven; it’s not an upgrade for the oven unless you would consider the move from a comfortable kitchen to a scrap heap to be an improvement.
It would be accurate to say that the new appliances are an upgrade for the house or the kitchen; these statements would be accurate since new appliances would be an improvement for the house or the kitchen, but saying the appliances, themselves, need to be upgraded is not accurate.