Last Thursday, Leah left this comment on Why Aren’t There More A-List Bloggers:
“But "elder"? Makes me feel as if I should be wise, and that will never happen. Perhaps we can do away with identifiers altogether? It's what we say and do, and not our age, that counts.”
Let me explain…
We’ve discussed the many “names” elders are given in several posts here over the past two years. Some, such as geezer, biddy, fossil, fogey and coot, are just rude. Others are too cutesy to be at all tolerable: golden-ager, third-ager, oldster.
The standards – senior and senior citizen have become pejorative with overuse. Pensioner, retiree and mature person suffer from being inexact and also carry a negative feel.
When I started Times Goes By, I deliberately used the words old and older in the same way that young is used – as a neutral modifier – intending and hoping that it would, in time, become less negative, but it was never quite right.
I had toyed a few times with the word elder – which has fallen out of use in the past century. Then, one of the Blogher founders, Elisa Camahort, labeled me “elderblogger” and it was a Eureka moment. Elder felt just right.
Certainly, Leah is correct that what we say and do is what counts. But we cannot prevent others from labeling us and it’s important that elders, not others, decide what that label is.
Language matters. It was crucial to the success of the civil rights movement in the 1960s, that the people who were then commonly called Negroes insisted that henceforth they be called blacks. “Negro” carried centuries of negative baggage, but black was new and neutral and it made a big difference in the advancement of the cause.
And so it is with old people. “Elder” has been in disuse for so long that we can adjust its meaning now. It doesn’t need to mean wise, although on experience alone, elders have gained more judgment to draw on than younger people have for no other reason than they haven’t lived long enough yet. And maybe that is a step toward wisdom. But in the use of elder at Time Goes By, “wise” does not automatically attach.
When a term is new, it is always awkward or uncomfortable for awhile. But with regular use, it becomes commonplace and I haven’t found any other word I like as much as elder.