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Proactive

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  • Proactive, an adjective meaning acting in advance to deal with expected circumstances, emerged in the 1980s and ’90s as a business buzzword. Like many buzzwords, it irritates some people. The main complaint against proactive—an early-20th-century coinage—is that it’s often used where active would work just as well. Also, proactive sometimes displaces perfectly good words like assertive, aggressive, firm, and decisive. In the following examples, proactive could be replaced with a less buzzwordy alternative:

    The motion is really a call for the State Department to be more proactive [assertive?] in dealing with Pakistan about persecution of religious minorities. [OneNewsNow]

    President Ma said Wednesday morning that the government was proactively [actively?] dealing with the scandal. [Radio Taiwan International]

    In North Arlington, town officials are trying to be proactive [aggressive?] when it comes to property maintenance violations. [NorthJersey.com]

    Still, while people who care about English usage love decrying proactive, it can be a useful word, especially when contrasted with reactive (not reactionary). Granted, active often works as an antonym of reactive, but proactive is a little more emphatic. It works in these cases:

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    It’s about being proud of your community and sharing it with others and noticing what is going on and being proactive instead of reactive. [Times-Virginian (article now offline)]

    When will schools start being proactive instead of reactive about bullying? [BET]

    This was my fourth televised conversation with Bush, and it is clear to me that he is a reactive guy, not a proactive person. [Sun-Sentinel]

    Even when not contrasted with reactive, proactive seems to have earned a place in the language, and many writers clearly feel it has shades of meaning not covered by assertive, active, or the other alternatives.

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