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.”