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Condi is pushing back, I'm laptop-enabled: going forward from here

What's up with "pushback"? When I heard it twice within just a couple days in completely unrelated conversations with two different women, neither of them particularly "pushy" themselves, I thought, "Hmm - this may be a word of the moment." Pushback, in the sense of "resistance," is not a meaning readily found in dictionaries yet, but it's pretty clear what's meant, and it sounds vivid and punchy.

Who is pushing back nowadays? "Pushback" was the word when Charlie Rose interviewed Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice the other day. She wasn't the one who brought it up, though. As she mentioned United States efforts to encourage "civil society" in Latin America, Mr. Rose countered, "There's some pushback there, though."

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From here, the transcript shows, she gave as good as she got:

SECRETARY RICE: Of course there may be pushback.

MR. ROSE: This is Latin America.

SECRETARY RICE: We're going to keep pushing.

MR. ROSE: But there's pushback.

SECRETARY RICE: Do you really expect that there's not going to be pushback on new ideas?

The appeal of "pushback" for Ms. Rice and others may be that it is a noun, which can be ascribed to nameless opponents, while one claims the active verb for one's own side: "There is pushback, but we are pushing."

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Let's push on.

Are you "laptop enabled"? Having schlepped my computer to the public library the other day, I noticed a little sign saying "Dear Laptop-enabled Patrons ..." advising about wireless Internet access. It's interesting how the enable/disable pair has found new life in the digital age, as a hipper alternative to "turn on/turn off." I remember from my days as a cub reporter in South Carolina that the city government couldn't do anything, it seemed, without "enabling legislation" from the state. This seemed to be a legacy from feudalism. More recently, in pop-psychobabble, "enabling" is a bad thing. Mom's dropping Junior's lunch off at school when he forgets it is "enabling" Junior's early morning forgetfulness.

But "laptop enabled," referring either to gizmos or people, goes to some interesting places, such as "laptop-enabled students" taking notes collaboratively in university classrooms.

The other word of the moment on my mind is the phrase "going forward" and its cousin "looking forward."

At the White House the other day, presidential spokesman Scott McClellan was asked about the situation in Afghanistan, "What's the expectation now, going forward?"

"Going forward" is one of those forms that show how ingrained the habit of seeing time as space is: "the road ahead." When Bill Gates chose that as a book title a few years ago, no one thought he was writing a travelogue. The "going" part makes it sound more active, even though the "going" involved is often just moving through time. It's always good to look where you're going. It's notable that "looking forward" always has a positive connotation; compare that with "looking ahead to likely layoffs in the fall." That the delight in "looking forward" is implicit, not explicit, helps make the phrase useful. So, one can end a business letter: "I look forward to working with you to resolve the unfortunate matter of your billy goat, Gruff, and my vegetable garden to everyone's satisfaction." It sounds constructive but doesn't really commit the writer to feelings any warmer than are actually felt.

This appears with links at: http:// weblogs.csmonitor.com /verbal_energy