I am unsurprised at the Webster failure.
One thing that often manages to evade public knowledge is that dictionaries are entirely non-authoritative.
American English language dictionaries are nothing more than the lexicographer's efforts to keep up with popular usage. That's it. They are not authoritative.
If you want the best you can get go to the OED.
Your examples of the misuse of the word are all too painfully true and common. Hell, I have even seen judges mis-using the word in their published opinions. Doesn't make it right. It merely illustrates a failure on the part of the education system and the result is that we are losing our language.
I can't understand why your internet search yielded nothing:http://www.google.com/search?q=utilize+ ... =firefox-a
During the 1960s there was a new thing happening. Young people by the droves were becoming the first person in their family's histories to complete and advanced degree ( then a BA or BS was an advanced degree). These young gods returned home wearing white shirts and took jobs at pay scales that dwarfed their father's and his dirty fingernails and blue work shirts. They were treated like gods too. Suddenly it was not good enough to be who you were. The new kids literally cast a pallor over America because while the parents often paid the college bills and launched their kids on their blazing careers the reflection was one that troubled those very people. They wanted their kids to do better than they did but when it happened it also hurt a little and people lost a little of the dignity they had.
So they started inventing all sorts of stupid crap to make themselves feel better: Secretaries were suddenly "administrative assistants." Janitors were "maintenance engineers." Pretty much every vocation that involved actually doing a thing with your hands got some kind of "engineer-ification" and anyone who wore business attire started calling themselves professional. I's not dressing professionally it is "business attire."
There are perfectly good words for the things people do to earn a living and the mis use of the word profession is among the worst of misapplications of language for it.
Trades are trades. IMO there is nothing more dignified than a trade. When a tradesman takes up his tools he brings order to an otherwise chaotic universe. Can't make such a blanket statement about any damn professionals.
Vocation is anything you do to earn a dollar
An Avocation is a thing you go to school to learn how to do like accounting and engineering.
A Priest is a professional and he can be a drunken child molester without two thin dimes to rub together. A lawyer is a professional and God knows I have too many colleagues whom I think are nothing but a blight on the profession for their intellectual sloth, cheapskate ways, and dishonest money grubbing deceitfulness.
That half retarded guy named Donk who sits on a beach every day in Australia scanning the water for signs of distress and when he sees it plunges headlong into the water to save lives is a professional even if he can't figure out which piece of bread gets the peanut butter and which the jelly.