1. "Yes" At the end of my professional bio, which I wrote several years ago, I included a questionnaire that's set up like James Lipton's on Inside the Actor's Studio. First question: "Favorite word?" What else? The opposite of "No," which, incidentally, was not my least favorite word -- that would be "Death." Some things will never change.
2. "Lovely" My favorite adjective. Too bad it's not as heavily in conversational rotation in the U.S. as it is in the UK and Australia. The discourse of us Yanks could use some classing up.
3. "I was just thinking about you"/"I miss you" In lieu of fancy presents, florid declarations and promises you can't -- and won't -- keep, keep it simple and honest. Sometimes it's the smallest sentiment that makes the biggest impression.
4. "What's your story?" Years ago, I covered a political event in North Carolina where Jesse Helms publicly berated a reporter for asking what the then-N.C. U.S. senator described as a "loaded" question. I wonder what he would have thought of the terribly open-ended one that a friend of a friend once asked me on a Saturday night at Starlight, which for years was my favorite gay bar in New York City. Surely the late Helms would have disapproved of the setting, but compared to some of the loaded ice-breaker questions I've been asked in similar places, this one was a winner. Maybe it was the piercing blue eyes of the med student with his arm draped over my shoulder, or the way he looked at me like he actually wanted to know my story, but I was more than thrilled to spend the next few hours telling it.
5. "Sweet [or insert other adjective] as" Speaking of things that cute guys can get away with... It's something that hot twentysomething Aussie men say to show that they're impressed (or perhaps not so much, but I've only head it used positively -- and by hot twentysomething Aussie men). Sample use: "You're going to Cape Town? That's sweet as." I'm not sure where it comes from, or why a simple "Cool" won't do. (Is it an un-profane twist on "Cool as shit"?) But I'll never get tired of being referred to as "hot as," though the first time someone said it to me, I thought he was talking about my butt. I think Justin Timberlake should bring "sexy" back again and write a song called "Sexy As."
6. "A que dedicas?" Literal translation: "To what are you dedicated?" It's a formal Spanish way of asking "What do you do?" that creates the (possible) illusion that the speaker actually wants to know more about the person and not just his or her job.
7. "Aflojo" (Literal translation: "I relax.") For those of you who think it's woman's work(out), Pilates is a lot tougher than you think. I can't tell you how many Pilates classes in Buenos Aires I've spent praying for that one little word to come out of the mouths of my instructors (in Spanish Pilates, commands are always given in first person), letting me know that whatever torturous routine is killing me at the moment is now officially done.
8. "Good work/Nice job" Just two simple words, and totally arbitrary ones at that, but for the lazy and the procrastination prone, there might not be any greater non-monetary motivator.
9. "I'm proud of you" The flipside of "I'm disappointed in you," the worst thing my mother ever said to me, which she thankfully hasn't said to me since my first body piercing more than 20 years ago. Mom, who, thankfully, never skimped on "I"m proud of you," is a large part of why I eventually let all three of my piercings -- one in each ear and one in my right nostril -- close up. I once read an interview with Barbra Streisand in which she lamented her difficult relationship with her own mother. The one thing she always wanted to hear her mom say, was "I'm proud." (Diana Streisand Kind finally did, albeit grudgingly, backstage in a 1994 Vanity Fair article.) Moms and dads, those two words say so so much.
10. "You've been accepted/approved" For anyone impatiently waiting on a response after filling out a loan or college application (or anything else requiring an outside force to grant you a thumbs up), possibly the greatest stress reliever possible.
11. "My treat"/"It's complimentary/on the house" My friend Marcus recently showed up at my apartment with the coolest pajamas he'd been given for free in the first-class cabin of his Sydney to Santiago Qantas flight. One can certainly buy far cheaper and nicer sleepwear for a fraction of the cost of a first-class plane ticket, but really, it's the thought that counts, and even richer-than-God celebrities live for freebies.
12. "We're giving you an upgrade" Unfortunately, unless you're richer than God, have tons of frequent flier miles or friends in high places (like on staff at Qantas), or work for a generous company that's footing the upper-class bill, you'll probably be sleeping in your street clothes in coach.
13. "You look younger (than you are/looked two years ago)"/"You haven't aged a bit"/"When are you going to start aging?"/"You're like Benjamin Button!" Isn't it funny how something that can make you groan up to around age 21 can make you glow at any point after you hit the legal drinking age in the U.S.? Those soap opera teens (Kristina Corinthos on General Hospital and, more recently, Summer Newman on The Young and the Restless) who've been tarting it up to attract slightly older twentysomething guys with tousled hair will be dying -- and possibly Botoxing -- to pull a Benjamin Button any year now.
14. Red carpet banter that doesn't involve a young starlet saying she feels "like a princess" or any references to "old Hollywood glamor." That's why you've got to love that Jennnifer Lawrence. She's thoroughly modern (Audrey Hepburn and Grace Kelly were great beauties, but can we all move on?), and it's hard to imagine an Oscar winner who does a shot before meeting the press backstage and then salutes them with a middle finger ever comparing herself to prissy royalty.
15. "The hunter gets captured by the game" One of my favorite song titles of all-time, and one of the most sophisticated musical and lyrical statements to come out of Motown's 1960s hit factory. Whether it's being sung by the Marvelettes (who took the Smokey Robinson composition to No. 13 on Billboard's Hot 100 in 1967), covered by Grace Jones (on her 1980 Warm Leatherette album) or Massive Attack featuring Tracey Thorn (on 1995's Batman Forever soundtrack), or being quoted by General Hospital's Luke Spencer in his wedding vows to Tracy Quartermaine a few years ago, this lyrical twist that finds the player getting played is a poetic expression of poetic justice at its most just.
16. "You've got mail." Remember when AOL was boss, and AOL Mail would announce that someone cared enough to write every time someone cared enough to write? The catchphrase even spawned a 1998 Tom Hanks/Meg Ryan romantic comedy that I probably enjoyed more than I should have because I was in love at the time. I never really got into anything else about AOL Mail, always preferring Hotmail's warmer design, but now that Hotmail has been folded into Outlook, would it be too much to ask for an end to the silent treatment when incoming mail arrives? A little bit of fanfare would be nice (or at least the option to turn it on and off)!
18. "I've quit smoking." What an effective way to choose life! No offense to my smoker friends. You know I love you just as much as I do the ones who don't smoke, though I'm at a loss to explain how a nasty habit that was once practiced solely by the dregs of high school society became perfectly acceptable in respectable company only a few years later. But if all of my smoker friends were to say it ("I quit") and mean it, maybe I'd never again have to come home smelling like an ashtray.
19. "I"m not going to be able to make it tonight." Let me let you in on a little secret known to only one person (my friend Cara, who knows exactly where I'm coming from). I hate being the bad guy, and I hate planning nights out before the afternoon of, so unless there's a hot guy and a hot date involved, or it's my birthday (or party), I'm almost always secretly relieved whenever a friend calls or emails or texts to cancel. Now there goes my social life -- what's left of it!
20. "I had a great time tonight." I know it's against the rules of romance to play it so uncool, but texting or phoning or emailing your glowing review of our date within an hour after it's over is the surest route to my heart -- or at least another date.
21. "There is a light that never goes out." Few songwriters in the history of rock & roll have consistently constructed songs with titles that hold as much lyrical weight as those of Morrissey (also architect, as a member of The Smiths, of "Pretty Girls Make Graves," "Meat Is Murder" and "Barbarism Begins at Home"). Whether you want to think of that light as the burning eternal flame of love or simply as a beacon, in the throes of gloom and doom (which is generally where all Morrissey songs reside), that it never extinguishes itself remains a thoroughly comforting thought.
22. "Thank you for being a friend" I've seen every single episode of The Golden Girls at least 100 times at this point, but still, no other theme song in the history of television brings me more joy. "Jealousy is a very ugly thing, Dorothy. And so are you in anything backless!"
23. "Diva" Something else of which I never tire. If I were a woman, I'd want to be a described as a "diva" (in the positive sense of the word) -- or at the very least, "saucy."
24. "I love you (too)" As Woody Allen suggested in the title of his 1996 film, everyone says it. But when they really mean it, (as the late Luther Vandross and the late Gregory Hines declared in their 1987 No. 1 R&B duet), there's nothing better than love... sweet love. (Sing it, Anita!)
25. "Go!" It's positive, permissive and proactive. Most of all, it means the wait is finally over. It might very well be my second-favorite word.