The following article was sent in by TTNer Sheila Malkind, famously known as the Executive Diurector of the Legacy Film Festial.
With great amusement, I recently read an article
published in the Washington Post Opinions by Laura L.
Carstensen, PhD., titled "In search of a word that won't
offend 'old' people, Our language makes it impossible
to embrace age. Let's change that."
Carstensen, Professor of Psychology and the Fairleigh
S. Dickinson Jr. Professor in Public Policy at Stanford
University, states: "For years, I thought we should
start calling ourselves old and be proud of the fact that
we've reached advanced ages. Over the past 40 years
or so, I've tried to persuade people to use the word old
proudly, but I have so far failed to get a single person to
do so." She now avoids
old for fear that the term might
offend. Even the Stanford Center on Longevity, that
she directs, has "never settled on a good term for old
She has found a new word she likes, penned by
someone in the commercial field of aging:
because (It)"makes clear that we're still here,
blossoming again and again."
So, why am I amused by the article? Because old and
elderly seem to have been unacceptable to individuals
in our society since forever! Perhaps the distaste for
the terms come from our fear of becoming enfeebled,
or invisible, or alone, and yes, that we are going to die!
Back in 2002, gerontologists were seeking 'politically
correct terminology for older adults'. (The Gerontologist, 2002).
Now there are other, preferable and user-friendly terms, such as mature, seniors, and senior citizens and (my favorite) elders, that imply respect for and inclusion of elders in mainstream society.
But older people also have a responsibility
to polish the image of old: i.e., to speak up fearlessly
when there is wrongdoing, to be present in society, to
listen and respect people of all ages, and to be kind and
open-minded. Then words like old and elderly will not
be feared by old people, but worn proudly. Just like the
Older Women's League of San Francisco.
In an (old) article, 84-year-old Danish female physician,
Esther Møller, wrote: "I really don't understand the
fear of old age or the shame of being old... The Danish
word for old, gammel, is a term of honor, deriving
from a word meaning 'winter.' It signifies one who has
lived through many winters - someone with a desire
for life, a wise and experienced person: going through
the hard winters was a difficult thing in the distant past
when the word originated." ("Being Old. A subjective
description of becoming and being Old," Danish Medical
Bulletin, 1992; 39:201)