Let’s Start A National Movement To Ban The “S” Word

I hereby declare the start of a movement to banish the word “senior” from the English language,
as in “senior citizen.”

And, while we’re at it, let’s say bye-bye to the phrases “golden years” and “old age.”

I didn’t think of myself as a “child” when I was 8, a “teenager” when I was 15; a “young adult” when I was 24, or a middle-aged woman” when I was 45. And I surely didn’t start thinking of my myself as a “senior” at the tender age of 50, when the depressing, AARP organization sent me a membership application. I don’t feel any different, at 67. What’s more, If I’m lucky enough to live into my 80s or 90s, don’t call me “elderly.”

I realize it’s convenient for demographers, sociologists, academics and psychologists to label people populations, but boomers refuse to get “old,” even if 60 is a bigger number than 20 and it takes us a little longer to leap tall buildings in a single bound.

Consider what Harry Moody, 69, former director of academic affairs for AARP, told a New York Times writer a couple of years ago: “What’s going on is we have a problem with the subject itself. Everyone wants to live longer, but no one wants to be old. Personally, I tend to use the term ‘older people’ because it’s the least problematic. Everyone is older than someone else.

“Much of the time, it’s completely unnecessary to use age as an identifier at all. People don’t like it. That’s why you see organizations changing their names. Elderhostel got rid of ‘elder’ and became Road Scholar. AARP shortened its name, which now doesn’t mention age or retirement,” Moody said.

I also think women who refuse to disclose their ages—even if they’re clearly over 50—are doing us all a disservice. Aren’t they actually capitulating to those who think we’re useless and elderly after 50? If I have more energy, passion, drive and creativity than many people half my age, why should I hide the fact I’m 67? I can hear all my 30-something friends lovingly calling me “a pain in the neck,” “stubborn,” and “opinionated,” but I don’t think they’d pin the label “senior citizen” on my new jean overalls.

Press releases with the “S” word continually pop up in my email, such as one with this headline:

CELEBRATE NATIONAL GRANDPARENTS DAY WITH SENIOR-FRIENDLY ACTIVITIES ON SEPTEMBER 7th 2014.

Don’t you just love the term “senior-friendly”? The release was sprinkled with other endearing words, like “the elderly”, and gave us spectacularly uncreative advice, including taking “the elderly” on “fun” activities like picnics. My mother died a few years ago, one month shy of 87. I never referred to her as elderly a single day of her life. And her “fun” activities included going to the Shakespeare class at the Y and playing bridge.

I decided to ask the “junior” PR person, who sent the release, to explain how her company defined “senior.” She responded: “Someone who is at least 60.”

AARGH!!!!!

  • Sunn ymay

    I want to be called a Senior when it gets me discounts at the theater and shops. I’ve earned my lines and learned as each decade flies by that over 40 isn’t that old.

  • Mick

    You are right – condescending behaviors for any reason are unacceptable and much of this is socially ingrained by advertising and social media.

    What I find offensive are the television programs and commercials wherein children are portrayed as being so much smarter than the bumbling, inept, and stupid adults. Everything from breakfast cereal to computers: the message is adults are idiots.

    If we devalue ourselves with divisive language and images, people will eventually accept it as truth and the norm. Racist, sexist, ageist, and sectarian comments should never be promulgated throughout societies in order to create bias and divide. It’s hate mongering any way you look at it.

  • Emily Lees

    At 64, I, too, am offended by the use of such condescending terms as “senior,” particularly when it is used to designate an activity aimed at older adults. The most recent example I have come across is a series of art appreciation seminars “for seniors.” Why for seniors? Is it because the seminars are during the day? Maybe some stay-at-home mothers of school-aged kids would also enjoy hearing a presentation geared to adults. Maybe some unemployed adults of any age would appreciate some stimulation. Why not say “daytime seminars”? And what I really hate is being called “dearie” or “sweetie.” I honestly feel like saying something really shocking in return, but I limit myself to saying (not so sweetly) “please don’t call me that.” And courses geared to teach “seniors” how to use the computer are an insult. Today my 80-year-old friend and colleague (we are both professional ceramic artists) was talking to me about setting up her website, and another 80-year-old friend taught me Skype. She has started a blog and several years ago was the first person I knew to get a Kindle. She and I are both enrolled in Coursera on-line continuing ed courses in philosophy and science. Thanks for letting me vent. I am thinking of starting an anti-ageist blog, but right now I am too busy with preparing for shows and running a French book study.

    • Hi Emily,

      Enjoyed reading your “vent.” It was actually anything but. Such great points you make about the courses.

      I’d love to see photos of your work or where I can see it on the web.

      Best,
      Geri