Ageism: Look Unto Thyself
Between Worlds

Elder? It Fits Nicely

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.


I like elder. It makes me think of a tree.

I like some parts of being an elder, but when the mail came yesterday, it brought an offer for a "free" wheelchair. I threw it away, but my first inclination was to call them and ask why they thought I needed a wheel chair just because I am 65! I was momentarily insulted....LOL

I always felt comfortable with what the English call their elders..."old dears". It didn't sound "cutesy" or condescending but offered with the "old" part a little tenderness.

I personally like the term ‘elder’ also but I do wonder something in particular about any discussion surrounding terms such as senior, elder, old, ancient, etc. and that is…..what ages do these terms or designations cover? Take the word ‘senior’ for example.

When I attained the ripe old age of fifty some fifteen years or so ago, I began to get a bit curious as to when I would be categorized as a ‘senior’. According to the local golf course green fees, I would get the senior discount when I was 65. Baptist Health Organization categorizes senior as 55+. Local restaurants seem to go more for the age of 60. Now when AARP (American Association of Retired Persons) began to take on stature it became common knowledge that you started getting membership solicitations from the organization when you turned 50. AARP says that its membership base is for the 50+ group. Also the term ‘senior’ started becoming synonymous with the AARP organization.

Speaking of AARP - there has always been something a bit askew in my opinion with regard to that organization’s name since its name certainly implies that it is an organization for ‘retired’ persons. That is, of course, not the case. It also is noted in the name as ‘American’ yet the latest numbers from AARP indicate some 40,000 foreign members. Being an American is not any prerequisite to joining. So….you don’t have to be American and you don’t have to be retired – so why the name? Just one of life’s questions I stay up at night wondering about.

Sorry for straying – okay back to being elder. I have always thought that 65 should be the entry age to enter the ‘ELDER’ status. Just seems right to me. As far a ‘SENIOR’ goes, well it would seem that AARP and its national/international stature has determined that 50 is entry level for the ‘senior’ title. So here is what we got….

Senior: 50 thu 64 years of age
Elder: 65 thru 89 years of age
Ancient: 90 and above
Old: All of the above

Take the "free wheelchair" and sell it on Ebay. ;)

I like the terrm "Elder" much better that "Senior". Somehow it seems less condesending to me. And "Senior Citizen" is way down on my list of names I would chose for myself. It is overused and tired and wornout; I am none of the above.

I kind of like "seasoned citizen"

I can go with "Elder" anytime old and older aren't sufficient. I'm not really interested in a structured hierarchy of sequential age groups being labelled with different names I don't really like in the first place.

Next thing you know certain stereotypical characteristics are affixed to each of those groups, then suddenly "one size fits all" and we have these ill-fitting labels again.

Elder seems to me to be all encompassing of a much broader range of characteristics along with a wider age range. Thus, the 80 yr old who is as youthful in thought, etc. as the 50 yr old is less likely to be discriminated against with language.

Of course, the 50 yr old who thinks and acts like they're over the hill, would be somewhat protected by the elder term until, hopefully, they realized they'd only lived about half their life and got on with it!

Labels don't mean much to me--when applied to me, at least--as long as others are dealing with me honestly and intelligently. If those two criteria are not met, it makes no difference what I am called because I won't be paying attention.

BTW, Alan G: Organizations are named by the intentions of the founders. You, as a presumed male, are certainly able to join NOW (National Organization for Women)! Perhaps there is/should be an International Association for Retired Persons. Andreas probably wouldn't have minded.

As for me,
my working aspiration is to be an omniscient crone; call me Omnicrone for short!

Meanwhile, I like 'elder' and have ever since I learned of elder hostels a few decades ago.

I think I'm ok with being an "elder" but am I also then elderly?

Anonymous: "elderly", by any dictionary defintion mean "frail," although many mainstream newspapers erroneously use it to mean "old" which, to them, appears to be anyone from 60 on up.

It usually appears in such a sentence as "the elderly woman, age 63, was..."

And they don't necessarily mean frail, although there's never enough explanation to know that for sure.

Thanks, Ronni. I do actually like "elder" much better than other terms used. It brings to mind the elder statesman or stateswoman or the church elder or even the elders we were taught to respect. Keep up the fight to educate!

I'm from Japan, and the way the elderly are treated there differs vastly from the neglect in the U.S. Whenever I think/talk about this difference, the phrase that comes to mind in describing the Japanese (or more generally, the East Asian/Confucian) approach is "respect for the elders." Elders are viewed as making valuable contributions to society in a way that I have yet to come across in any significan manner in America, though unfortunately with Japan's modernization, this important cultural attitude is being eroded.... Anyway, I just wanted to put my two cents in that I think "elder" is a positive and respectful word that to me, speaks to all things great about growing older.

I heard Maya Angelou refer to herself recently as "upwardly middle aged."

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