Friday, August 31, 2018

Note To Older Boomers: Stop Trying To Escape Old Age With Euphemisms!

When a smarmy little twit using the handle "Petulant Guy"  (pretty accurate!) rendered a blog comment (March 10, last year, in a post to do with the imbecile Bruce Cannon Gibney), he used the following, in addressing me:

"Get a grip old man...."

I took the words more as a badge of honor than as an insult, given that not everyone makes it to 71 years of age (at that time). But the underlying tone did show the lack of respect for older citizens in our youth-obsessed culture. As if to emphasize that, a piece in yesterday's WSJ ('Forget Senior- Boomers Search for Better Term', p. A9)  displayed all the pathetic ways too many Boomers are seeking to escape ownership for their age by using euphemisms.  It reminded me of one of the examples Bill Maher presented from a  "bias free" language guide issued by the University of New Hampshire, highlighted in an Aug. 7 2015 Real Time show.  Maher noted the guide's updated reference to  "people of advanced age", instead of senior citizens.  To which I responded in my Aug 10, 2017  post,   "Sorry, but I will opt for senior citizens over that 'advanced age'  crap."

Anyway, some of the euphemisms trotted out in the article and the complaints by some:

"Perennial"-  first used by Gina Pell in a 2016 newsletter to "describe people of all ages" but now retirement age Boomers have adopted it. ("But not every older person likes it."   Well, no shit, it sounds like a freaking plant!)

"Vintage"  - Non judgmental but makes too many "think of an old clothes shop"

"Lucky"  is a succinct term "to describe people over 60",  offered by a woman who's lost many to cancer and heart attacks.   I don't know about 60, but for sure 66, as I've lost two brothers  (since 2013) who never made it to that age. (One of 3 barely made it to 67.)

"Older adults" is also favored  because it's claimed to be "neutral and accurate".   Well, maybe - but only in a relative sense. If a 70 -year old is sitting in a waiting room with a 90-year old, then both claiming to be  "older adults" seems like a stretch.   The term, while "neutral", seems more like obfuscation to me.   We learn also how the words-euphemisms evolved  - from "aged".

"A once acceptahle word or phrase accumulates negative connotations and is replaced by another"

Hmmmm....reminds many of us how that happened to "liberal" which then got replaced by the term "progressive" - mainly because Dems and others ceased to robustly defend the L-word from the rabid right wingers, and just punked out. The same appears to have happened to "aged" which then mutated to "senior citizens", and then to "older adults".  (Oh, some terms, e.g. "geezer" were never acceptable!)

Why all the word games to simply describe an older human?

"Everyone is growing older,  but most people don't want to be called old or be perceived as old, which makes finding an acceptable term difficult."

Well, not if one also has enough sense to accept reality.  Perhaps the best person I've read who provides perspective on aging and its aspects is Sister Joan Chittister, in her book, 'The Gift Of Years'.   Starting out with the (obvious)  proposition that aging is a "gift" -  given the alternative is being in a box six feet under or reduced to ashes in an urn.  Hence, because one has managed to reach the proverbial "golden years" in one (more or less) piece, as opposed to so many who haven't  (like all the young kids left for dead in hot cars this summer, as well as my three younger brothers) there is cause to rejoice or at least not diss it.

Overly optimistic babble? Not when Sister Joan writes (p. 24):

"Researchers have known for many years now that only five percent of those over sixty-five are in special care institutions and eighty percent of the rest of the older population is managing the rigors of daily living."

So why the rank ageism and disrespect of elder citizens as useless relics?  Sr. Joan again:

"The real question: What difference does it make how wise we are, how well we are, how alert we are, how involved we are after sixty-five?  After all once you reach retirement age in this culture, everything is canceled. We're 'old' now and we  know it. And the rest of the world knows it, too.

We're 'old'. Translate - 'useless',  'unwanted', 'out of place'. Translate 'incompetent.'.   We are the over-the -hill gang our birthday cards say. And we laugh, as well as we can, but if the truth were known the laugh comes out as a stab in the psyche."

And then  robustly rejecting this deformed take  (ibid.):

"Those representations are not true, and we know that. too, because we're it, we're the real thing. And we do not bumble, or dodder or mutter. We think very well, thank you, and we work hard and we know precisely what is going on in the world around us."


"Negative stereotypes exaggerate isolated characteristics and ignore positive characteristics entirely."

All of which well explains why elder Boomers especially are desperate to change the perception by adopting quirky euphemisms. But as Sr. Joan goes on to emphasize in her subsequent chapters, the way to alter societal stereotypes is by way of action, not trying to play word games by use of neologisms or "neutral"- sounding terms for aging.

As she writes in her penultimate chapter, there is a cogent reason for emphasis on action, and well, living (p. 202):

"One of the better gifts of growing older is that time becomes more meaningful. Time now becomes a companion along the way. We are aware of it, always hovering over us like a chilling mist, or a warming Sun, waking us to the power of the immediate...Moments are not lived casually once we approach old age. Now they are savored. Every layer of them is milked, wrung out and relished."

Would that more of the Boomer generation read Sister Joan's book, there is no doubt they'd be less likely to  waste their precious time chasing foolish euphemisms -   to escape aging reality.

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