High Crimes of the Aged
Ronni at Her cbsnews.com Desk

The Danger of Euphemism

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.


Thanks for the link! Yes it is sad how we are expected to paint everything in warm pastels that could not possibly offend anyone, masking the reality underneath. No matter, someone will always be offended. We older people must be more vulnerable and therefore don't matter. It's not we who are driving massive consumption and spending of un-owned dollars. It's all those teens and young adults that never even see us - we must be transparent. I will stop now since I'm heading off into another rant...

YES! I have wrinkles too! And I am old. I hate the idea of being third age (our euphemism for old) or a senior.

I am a second-time-around student and I have learned that what used to be 'abnormal psychology' is now 'the psychology of atypical behaviour'
:-) The evolution of euphemisms is, I think, great fun. Here in Scotland, btw, it is perfectly acceptable to refer to someone as, say, "a nice old biddy". It's not the best of English but always seen as affectionate rather than derogatory.

I heard a story on the radio the other day on this topic, about a conversation between George Melly and Mick Jagger.

George: You have lots of lines on your face don't you Mick?

Mick: They are laughter lines George

George: Nothing is that funny.

Thanks, Ian, for my first real laugh of the day...can't wait to share your comment. God bless!

I've lurked around this blog for some time. Curious about the "being old" topic without once thinking of myself as a fellow codger.
About two months ago something happened to change that. What happened was that I was being interviewed by one of Israel's two major papers about my comic strip (I live in Israel and do a political comic strip)
The interviewer was an intelligent woman reporter who asked interesting and thought-provoking questions.
Towards the end of the interview I began to expound on the Jewish roots of Superman. The two Jewish cartoonists who created the immigrant from a long lost civilization, who learned to pass as a native in Metropolis working in the media, hiding his roots, while evading the advances of Lois, the sexy shiksa. The reporter scribbled her notes as I went on and on. I then mentioned the names of the two cartoonists who had crafted this great American myth out of Jewish sources and experience, and the reporter looked me in the eye and asked "So there were Superman comic book before the movie?"

In that shocking moment I realized that like it or not, I was out of the closet!

I am a codger.
And I am proud!

I have wrinkles and I am older and wiser than a lot of others. I am looking for answers and I think I will only find them within myself. Anyway, I hope the rest of my wrinkled and aged life will be filled with friends, laughter, and a little adventure.

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