[EDITORIAL NOTE #1: Word of S.1959, The Violent Radicalization and Homegrown Terrorism Act of 2007, is moving up the longtail to the big-time bloggers now. Good stories at Firedoglake and The Left Coaster. Hat tip to Anita of Take Joy.]
Saul Friedman has been writing a weekly column titled “Gray Matters” for Newsday for at least ten years. In general, he’s stand-up guy, arguing for elders and against ageism, against the president’s attempt to gut Social Security a couple of years ago, and many of the topics we discuss here at Time Goes By.
In fact, the only substantial differences between Mr. Friedman and Crabby Old Lady are that he has a larger circulation and gets paid.
Crabby is a fan of Saul Friedman's, so she was surprised, reading his Sunday column, at some of Mr. Friedman’s thinking in regard to language used to reference old people.
“I try not to call anyone "old," for that has become a relative term; some people are old in their forties, from illness or state of mind. As I have said, most of us are not as old as our parents were at our age.”
To address each of Mr. Friedman's three points: please, everyone, let’s get over the idea of age relativism. Crabby is tired of hearing it. Illness is illness at any age – it makes you sick, not old. Our parents did not have the advantage of the better healthcare and nutrition that we have. And to define a state of mind as “old” is ageist. What state of mind would “old” be? Crabby wants to know. Serious? Conservative? Stay-at-homes? Even crabby?
Crabby Old Lady knows many deliriously upbeat elders, a slew of elder liberals and progressives, and plenty of young people who hardly ever leave their computers to go anywhere.
“Old” describes – or should describe - a person in the same manner as “young” – by number of years. If you’ve made it to sixty or so, with about a third of your life remaining, you’re old now. Crabby has done her earnest best on this blog to use the world “old” in just that manner, hoping that in time it becomes – at least to those who stop by TGB – a neutral modifier.
There are two other difficulties with using “older” in place of “old”. Unless you are making a comparison to someone else, it is ungrammatical and worse, it is a euphemism that fools no one.
To Mr. Friedman’s credit, he rejects “senior citizen” as “sterile and inadequate”. Crabby dislikes it for the same reasons. But then he writes,
“…I never use ‘golden ager’ for there is nothing golden about getting old.”
Say what? Friedman tosses off this line as though it is conventional wisdom – and so it is in far too much of American culture. But Crabby Old Lady expects better from a big-time columnist who considers himself "an advocate for his readers" than repetition of the same old age-is-bad trope that reinforces prejudice against elders that leads to far too much age discrimination in the workplace, less aggressive healthcare for elders and isolation from mainstream life.
Which brings Crabby to “elder.” Mr. Friedman quotes a marvelous letter from one of his readers named Eileen Maida:
“I have written every television and radio station in the area concerning their use of the adjective, ‘elderly, referring to people over 60, even in some cases, 55. When the news media have a story about someone in our age group, this word is used regularly. Giving their age – say 70 – is enough. I never hear it [elderly] used in connection with Paul Newman or Sophia Loren and probably never will. Is anyone else irked about this?”
Oh, yes, Ms. Maida, “irked” is way too mild to describe Crabby Old Lady’s reaction. “Apoplectic” comes closer. “Elderly” implies frail and unless the reporter knows the person is frail, it has no place as an synonym for old.
As we have discussed here many times, “elder” works well. It references the general age of the person being described, imparts dignity and worthiness deserved by all age groups but rarely given to old people. Crabby Old Lady would be most pleased if Mr. Friedman would take up the use of “elder” in place of “older”. If you agree, you might want to tell him so, which you can do at firstname.lastname@example.org.
All that said, Crabby chooses to believe that Sunday’s column was an aberration on Mr. Friedman’s part. He is an otherwise excellent advocate for elders and it’s well worth your time to check in with him each Sunday. You can catch up on some of his recent columns here.
[At The Elder Storytelling Place today, an announcement.]