Is It that Age-old Question or That Old-age Question?

I just finished reading an article by a blogger who feels that the word “senior” should be stricken from the English language because it conveys a less-than-positive image. It was a timely piece for me because I happened to be attending the Saskatchewan Seniors’ Games in which my husband was participating.

While I don’t particularly care to be labelled a senior citizen (I can still remember the shock and dismay I felt the first time a waitress asked me if I was ordering from the seniors’ section of the menu.), I am at a loss to suggest a more satisfactory and palatable replacement.

My parents often referred to older folks as “pensioners” or “old-timers”. Well, that was back in the 1960’s and, as far as I am concerned, that’s where those terms should stay. Actually, the term “senior citizen” was coined way back in the 1930’s to reflect the conditions of the day, but times have changed and people are not only living longer but also more active lives. The problem today is that some people, particularly baby boomers (my age demographic), want to live forever, but not get any older. That’s not completely true, we don’t mind getting older – we just don’t want to be old!

So what’s the alternative? We could use the term “mature individuals”, but I’ve seen some of the antics of my peers and they bear no resemblance to mature or dignified behaviour. (Some people refuse to grow up, never mind grow old.) How about “retiree”? That doesn’t seem to work either since most people my age or older are busier than ever and a long way from anything that resembles retirement.

Someone commented to me a while back that I had aged well. While I appreciated the poorly-phrased compliment, I inwardly thought, “What am I? A piece of cheese? A bottle of wine? (Fine wine, I might add.) Do I have a ‘best before date’ stamped somewhere on me?”

I guess I should look on the bright side, since that comment was considerably better than being told that I am old school, getting on, or timeworn. And, unless one is referencing an Indiana Jones movie, don’t say someone is antiquated or ancient. What makes me cringe and sets my teeth on edge are carelessly and thoughtlessly thrown-out phrases such as: old fogey or old biddy, moth-eaten, over the hill or long in the tooth. If those phrases are uttered, shins will be sharply rapped, and not by my cane, but rather by my high heels. (Yes, I still wear them and will continue to do so until these arthritic knees give way.)

I did check my thesaurus for possible synonyms to use as substitutes. Some words sounded very enlightened, but their meanings were another matter. For example, antediluvian has an interesting ring to it, but it is defined as “belonging to the time before the Biblical flood”. Call me that if you want me to never speak to you again. The word dotard sounds nasty, and for good reason, as it refers to an old person who has become weak or senile.

Suddenly the word senior didn’t sound quite so onerous. I don’t know about any other upper-aged, advanced adults or chronologically-challenged individuals out there, but I can tolerate being called a senior. Better yet, just call me Gail, recognize my abilities and talents, and forget about the labels, no matter what the age of the person might be.



Participating in the Senior Games in 2014.


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