In need of 'proactive' translator

THE BALTIMORE SUN

SOMETHING IS happening to my friends. Even my most trusted, down-to-earth, sensible friends. Slowly, over time, they've forgotten how to speak English.

I don't mean they're speaking French, Italian, Spanish or Russian, or anything so romantic. No, it's as if they've become pods, taken over by alien beings who shun the virtues of a straightforward sentence or an elegant construction, or even just a grammatically comprehensible one. I struggle to understand them. I often fail. I feel like a freak.

Here's what I mean: My friend has had back pain for years. But I can't ask her how her back problems are anymore; she doesn't have back problems. She has back "issues." I'm never sure if she's talking about her anatomy or her Newsweek subscription.

B. is confused about her marriage and trying to make a decision. Would it be accurate to say she is ambivalent? No - too pretty, too Latinate. She is "conflicted." If I suggest she might want to take some time to think about it, perhaps time alone, before she makes any decisions, she tells me she'd rather be "proactive." Does that mean she wants to do something now? Something grand? Something tentative? I don't know. I can understand how she'd want to be active as opposed to reactive, but proactive?

J. is kind, generous and full of energy. She's also a heck of an organizer. When the tsunami struck in South Asia, she told me she wanted to best "utilize" the "monies" donated by charitable people to "impact" the "very real situation" at this "juncture" and make "substantive" changes "prior" to the situation's getting worse.

Um, I think she wants to use her skills to make sure money and help get to the people who need them most, especially now, before things get worse.

R. likes to call radio talk shows. He's a smart guy, and a goodhearted one, but sometimes he can come across as a bit pompous. He's always going on about "begging the question." What I think he means is that there's a follow-up the host needs to ask, to force the guest to say what he really means. But "begging the question" means to argue in a circular manner, to assume as a given what one claims to be proving. Talk-show guests do too much of that already.

In his professional life, R. is a management consultant. Nobody, it seems, has mere skills anymore; they have "skill sets." And their skill sets are "comprised of" a variety of factors: education, upbringing, temperament (oops, not a word he'd use). R. doesn't brook much opposition in his management seminars; people who question the theories are called "judgmental." That is, they have brains and make use of them. R. doesn't think there's a place for that sort of thing in today's competitive workplace. Either you're a "team player" or you're not.

L. and his family want to move out of their tidy suburb to someplace more stimulating because they find their neighborhood too "homogenous." I guess they don't like their milk. But I'm not sure the milk will be any different in the city, though the people might be. Cities tend to contain a more heterogeneous, as opposed to homogeneous, population.

Then again, L. and his wife just had another child and want a bigger place. (But don't ask what sex the child is; it doesn't have a sex. It has a "gender.") They'd like to sell their current house and "grow" their investment.

I know - maybe they can go in with J. and all grow their monies together, thus using their substantive skill sets to be proactive and impact the very real situation in Indonesia even more. That is, as long as they're not conflicted about it.

Lisa Simeone is the host of National Public Radio's World of Opera. She lives in Baltimore.

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