Last Thursday, we held a poll to see what generic (usually media) names and synonyms for old people we prefer and which ones we dislike.
First, my apologies to anyone who could not participate for technical reasons. It is the first time I've used Google Docs and I'm unlikely to do so again. Although only a tiny number could not respond, I had a whole lot of difficulties creating the poll – not the most user-friendly website I've ever run into.
In addition, I cannot find what write-in names were entered – 41 in the “like” poll and 19 in the “dislike” poll. After an hour, I had to give up trying to find them and get on with my life.
Okay, enough whining. Let's see what we learned.
There were 734 responses. Before I show you the full charts, here are the top five names we like in order of preference (respondents could choose as many as they wanted so the totals add up to more than 100%):
Older Adult (45%)
Older (man, woman, person) 39%
And the ones we most dislike in order of (non)preference:
Silver Fox (tie: 80%)
Golden Ager (tie: 80%)
Old Timer (74%)
Although I personally dislike pretty much every name except elder and old/older (man, woman, person) I have a particular loathing for silver fox. I can't tell you why but I can't stand it.
A number of commenters last week questioned the need for what they call “labels.” I submit that it's damned hard to talk about age groups without giving them names of some kind.
A few months ago, we discussed the lack of attractive clothing designed to fit the shapes of elder bodies. There is no way to talk about that without identifying the age of people in question. I mean, you can't say, “There is no good clothing for people” and have it make sense.
How could acne be explained without mentioning the age at which it is most prevalent? How would anyone know what kind of diapers are being sold without using words like baby and elder?
And what of medications that are safe for children or adults but may be harmful to old people?
There are many reasons to identify – that is, label - people by their ages. Age is as basic as sex, height, weight, hair color, etc. to our individuality.
Here is what is different among the names we use for various age groups. None of the words baby, infant, toddler, youngster, adolescent, teen, young adult, adult and even kid are pejorative or demeaning in and of themselves. They are neutral.
Not so for many names for old people such as geezer, coot, biddy and phrases like over the hill or no spring chicken, etc. that are disrespectful in and of themselves.
The cutesy-poo names and descriptions like golden ager, third ager, oldster and Portland, Oregon's transit designation of "honored citizen" are embarrassingly patronizing.
In American English, no other age group but old people are singled out for disrespect in this manner.
Here are the full charts with all the choices from the survey.
At The Elder Storytelling Place today, Norm Jenson: Prada