Memorial Day 2014
“Not One More”

TGB Reader Preferences of Names for Old People

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%):

Elder (61%)
Senior (49%)
Older Adult (45%)
Older (man, woman, person) 39%
Old (33%)

And the ones we most dislike in order of (non)preference:

Geezer (89%)
Geriatric (83%)
Silver Fox (tie: 80%)
Golden Ager (tie: 80%)
Old Timer (74%)
Oldie (45%)

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.

Names We Like Chart

Names Wed Dslike Chart

At The Elder Storytelling Place today, Norm Jenson: Prada


OK! Grandpa Elder it is . .

My kids will learn to love it.

This quote from today's blog got me to thinking, "How would anyone know what kind of diapers are being sold without using words like baby and elder?", Of course we could use the word "adult" diapers to distinguish between the two,where "adult" takes the place of "elder". Extending this, we could use the phrase " Advanced adult" to signify a person who is "long in the tooth", or "over the hill".

This reminds me of activities in which I participated many years ago when feminism was more alive. We would make lists like this of terms used to refer to females. There were many derogatory and offensive words on those lists. I wonder why it's so hard for some people to speak kindly and respectfully of everyone and reject insulting, disrespectful and stereotypical terminology?

Bruce, Diapers!? Yikes . . . That's going to be the day. How about labeling them - "Heavy Duty", or "Industrial Strength"? Do you remember the SNL sketch on adult diapers?

The condescending, infantalizing phrase I fervently despise (is that strong enough?) is "X YEARS YOUNG." Because even to say the word old is an insult?

I was 10 years old, I was 65 years old, and I plan to live to be 93 years old. And if I should live to be 123 years old, and someone calls me young as a "compliment" I will whack him in the shins with my sparkly gold cane.

Dear friend,
I am guilty:-) I did not respond because personally all of those terms offend me! I am sixty-four and simply an adult:-)

You know what? I don't care what you call me as long as I'm still alive, I'll answer to anything.

Thanks Ronni. Nice stuff and worth the struggle.

Maybe you don't like the label Silver Fox for the same reasons I don't. For me, it brings up images of an old man trying too hard to be young and cool and get into women's pants who are 20-30 years younger than they are.

I remember once upon a time you said, "Every time somebody uses a euphemism about my age, I am demeaned." Which is why I like elder and old. Be bold. Be accurate.

Thanks for the reminder. Yes, I did say that but it is not just me. It is all old people who are demeaned by patronizing, euphemistic language.

With a huge smile on my face, I heartily endorse what HeronFeather says above:

"The condescending, infantalizing phrase I fervently despise (is that strong enough?) is 'X YEARS YOUNG.' Because even to say the word old is an insult?

"I was 10 years old, I was 65 years old, and I plan to live to be 93 years old. And if I should live to be 123 years old, and someone calls me young as a "compliment" I will whack him in the shins with my sparkly gold cane."

Maybe the names of diapers would be helpful i.e. Depends versus Huggies and Pampers...unless some company comes out with a cutsey name for our product needs. ..We have some friends that always greet us with "So how are the "whipper snappers" doing...That in itself is derogatory...usually used in terms of a naive young person...That is a term that inflames my ire.....along with all the other terminology. I just want to be known as the person I am and not reminded of how long I have been above the ground every time I turn around!!

Excellent comments. I too hate "X years young" and for the reasons stated by HeronFeather and Ronni.

@Jean, I think you nailed the objection to the term "Silver Fox." I have the same reaction.

I didn't get to respond, I suspect because the poll had been taken down for tabulation by the time I got to the post. I don't mind being a senior or senior citizen or older adult. Or 71 years old. Or a retiree. I don't like elder; it sounds like either an affectation or a church official. Silver Fox is a lecherous old man, and besides, its a masculine form that doesn't even apply to women (vixens). My bank groups me into its "55 and Better" category, which i sort of like.

What about Silver Sneakers?
That's what gets me into any class at the Y compliments of my health insurance company.

So many labels annoy me but this one does not. It sounds active and pays the fees.

I'm guilty! I'm one of the people who likes "Geezer." But I realize that I like it when my older friends and I say it to each other. (We also say "....but we're OLD!!!" sometimes in amazement.) When we're in Geezer mode, we're not taking ourselves very seriously. It's like we're owning the joke.

I also dislike Silver Fox for exactly the reason stated above. One I particularly loathe is "Young Lady" said by grocery clerks and so on.

I also loathe "Young Lady" (I wrote it in on the survey), favored by a checker at my local Trader Joe's. Maybe I should call him "Sonny Boy."

@Jean -- completely on point about "Silver Foxes" -- sleazy and slimy.

@Bruce -- of course you're right, "Adult" is just fine and more appropriate. Unfortunately the many disabled veterans from Iraq and Afghanistan may change the idea that only old adults need diapers.

I like Sir when being addressed by grocery store checkers and such. It's the way I was brought up. I do not care much for a clerk or bank teller using my first name like they know me.

Still at some point it is nice to be noticed and not ignored.

Interesting poll.

Great comments! I'm going shopping for a sparkly gold cane in case anyone DARES to call me a Silver Fox.

I favor "fully mature adult," be failed to think of it when responding to the poll. That seems to happen more often since I entered fully mature adulthood.

Someone mentioned this in the comments last week and I agree: Elder is a good enough term but it is not neutral because it is used in different cultures with meaning attached. And so, when I think of elder I think not every old person is an elder.
That is why I am most comfortable with old!

Silver Sneakers?


How about "wrinkley?" As the Brits say. Kind of amuses me.

I totally agree with the dislike of "X years young." On the other hand, I kind of perversely do like "geezer"--at least when I use it of myself. If memory serves, I did cast one of the write-in "votes" that got lost: "crusty old fart" (stolen from one my my culture heroes, the late, great folksinger U. Utah Phillips). I like the humor in it. I turn 67 this summer, but I don't think I'm too crusty--yet.

What is the difference between elder and elderly? None! They are both awful.

I also get squiggly about Silver seems like Lounge Lizard goes right along with it. And X years young gets me too--

I do like's honest, its a medical term and hopefully will come into more use as we get away from the cutsie terms.

It has taken me time (hey, I'm old!), but I've finally posted my defense of the term "geezer." It's at my Geezer Guff website.

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