I don't mean to sound excited, but this is my very first war. And while I'm too young to remember much of Vietnam, I've seen enough presidential elections, Olympic Games (both boycotted and attended) and natural disasters to qualify as a fairly seasoned media receptor.

I have, of course, been paying close attention to the Persian Gulf conflict. Along with the fresh images of tearful farewells, adrenaline-pumped pilots and field correspondents in gas masks, I've become increasingly fluent in the strange dialect of war, the language of modern armed conflict.What have I learned since August? Before actually fighting, I now understand, you must engage in "diplomatic measures."

These measures, designed to prove that you've already tried to be diplomatic, consist of setting deadlines, enforcing naval blockades and threatening to kick the opposition leader "in the ass."

Moreover, during the diplomacy stage, it's best to insist that your opponent does not understand "what he is up against." Your opponent, you regret, will respond only to "signals," such as a congressional authorization for war.

Of course, once the war has started, the "madman" will suddenly be able to divine troop movements and classified target locations from blurry shots of Tel Aviv.

I've learned a lot from President Bush, too. The president has taught me that "naked aggression will not stand" unless it's clothed in a snug U.N. resolution. Then it "will persevere" and "cannot lose."

I've also come to understand that border violations of sovereign nations "will not be tolerated," unless the names of the violated nations end in "nia" or "via."

If you would rather be friends with the violators than fight them, you should "express concern" over their actions.

In the days leading up to the war, my learning curve steepened.

Secretary of State James Baker explained that if a nation is not relentlessly bombed, the world is rewarding that nation for its most recent actions. And in America we do not reward aggression, we top it.

I heard allied soldiers in the field say things like, "We're here to do a job, and hope to do that job, so the job will be done."

This, I've discovered, should not be mistaken for the evasive doubletalk of a Steinbrenner-era Yankee - instead it is the idiom of "well-trained professionals."

Since the hostilities actually began, I've learned that my friends and classmates are fighting in the Persian Gulf to preserve my constitutional right to shut up and "get in line behind the president."

I've also learned that "emir" means legitimate-leader-who-pays-in-cash, that a "war crime" is a bare knuckled beating but that dropping loads of explosives on a nation's capital is called a "sortie."

I've found, too, that "anti-missile missiles" are not contradictory but anti-war soldiers are, that the "Star Spangled Banner" is a battle cry and that "collateral damage" means civilians in the enemy's country die while terrorist attacks are when civilians in an allied country die.

All in all, it's been quite an education. At this rate perhaps I will be sophisticated enough to understand our "objectives" by the time we have achieved them.