A couple of days ago, Winston Rand at Nobody Asked reported that he’d had a good laugh when his dermatologist told him:
“Well, you know we’ve got to be politically correct these days. A few years ago we started calling them age lines, then maturity tracks, but now they are expression lines.”
And so it goes - another step, in our culture’s relentless quest for perpetual youth, toward ridding the language of any intimation that aging exists.
Last year, we had some fun here at TGB ridiculing euphemisms, but also noted their dangers. All euphemisms are a form of thought control, created to conceal meaning with the purpose of hiding a truth. “Pro life” supporters imply with their name that anyone who disagrees with them is anti-life giving themselves a slight semantic advantage over “pro-choice” advocates, although both phrases deliberately avoid the real name of the serious social issue in question, abortion.
The euphemisms that exist for old people are numerous and almost entirely derogatory. Except in jest and even then they would be suspect, few people these days would dare use codger, coot or geezer for old men or biddy, hag and harridan for old women. But golden-ager, oldster, retiree and senior citizen are in common use even though they suggest and encourage belief in irrelevance of those who are aging.
Until recently, mature was in vogue as a descriptor for old people, but lost its acceptance because there is another problem with euphemisms: they don’t last long due to creep of derision. As Winston’s dermatologist noted, there has already been a swift progression in his field from what was a fairly explicit phrase – age lines - to one that has no meaning at all. And if “expression lines” is widely adopted, it too will soon become freighted with sarcasm - “Oh, right, as though she thinks she can hide her so-called expression lines.” When that happens, and it soon will, yet another phrase, further shrouding meaning, will need to be invented.
Language matters, and euphemisms - amusingly transparent as they sometimes are - distort reality, becoming justifications for suppression, mistreatment and isolation from the mainstream. Which is why, here at TGB, we use “old people” and sometimes "elder," both of which are relatively untinged with a negative cast.
And those marks around my eyes? You'll never catch me calling them “expression lines.” They are wrinkles and as Fred at Fragments From Floyd once noted, they cause no pain.