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Dear Diary: A Foolish Passionate Woman

On reading The New York Times Op-Ed page yesterday, I had a bit of a private snit about columnist Maureen Dowd. As usual. Again.

From that you would be correct to infer I am not a fan. Never have been. But this time it was not her puerile snark or other cheap shots. It was the headline – Granny Get Your Gun – that first caught my attention.

Of course, that might not be Dowd – headlines are most often written by copy editors at The Times. But in this case, whoever did the writing took it directly from references within Dowd's screed:

”...granny in a Scooby van”

“...between Macho Man and Humble Granny”

“...the hokey Chipotle Granny”

Don't be fooled. Dowd's repeated use of “granny” is meant to demean presidential candidate Hillary Clinton in the eyes of readers.

This word, granny, the latest affront to the dignity of elders (women in particular although “grandpa” is occasionally bandied about in a similar fashion) is growing in popularity. There are dozens of examples every day due to the fact, I think, that writers believe it can be defended: “I only mean that she's a nice old woman.”

Maybe. Sometimes. Well, no, not really. It doesn't matter if a writer “thinks” granny is a cute way to say old. The word in a news story is far from harmless. It is dismissive, meant to weaken the woman's argument and integrity.

While British newspapers are bigger offenders with this word, the U.S. media isn't far behind. Some recent examples, in addition to Ms. Dowd's, that took me one minute to find on Google:

Huffington Post:
Granny Hair Is The Hottest Beauty Trend Of Spring/Summer 2015

Auburn Granny Tumbles 150 Feet Down Cliff

Runnin' Granny Training for First Blue Ridge Half Marathon

Okay, I cheated with the OregonLive item. Here is the entire headline:

”Auburn Granny Tumbles 150 Feet Down Cliff, 11-Year-Old Grandson Calls 911”

Even a child gets more respect in the media than an old woman. People of every other age group are routinely identified neutrally, by their number of years and full-word designation.

Just as I was sketching out my notes for a blog post about this, getting wound up about the ageism, I took a metaphorical step back: “Why bother, Ronni? Every time you write about ageism, particularly ageist language, at least half of TGB readers dismiss your point.”

It's been going on for years here - some version of “I don't care what anyone calls me,” they comment. Or, “You're over-reacting. It's not important what people call you." “Sticks and stones...” Et cetera.

But, you see, it IS important. Every time (and it's hundreds of times a day) an old person is demeaned with such language, it becomes easier to discriminate against elders in every other way. Refuse to hire them. Withhold certain medical treatment. Cut Social Security. Slash Medicare. It's all related.

So what, I said to myself. Nobody else cares and you haven't convinced anyone to change their mind in all this time.

I considered dropping that blog post and writing about something else. But my fury at Dowd's ageist tactic kept eating at me and I felt my bile rising again.

Then I remembered a couple of lines from a poem by William Butler Yeats. It is one of his lesser works, quite short and titled, A Prayer for Old Age.

God guard me from those thoughts men think
In the mind alone;
He that sings a lasting song
Thinks in a marrow-bone;
From all that makes a wise old man
That can be praised of all;
O what am I that I should not seem
For the song's sake a fool?
I pray - for word is out
And prayer comes round again -
That I may seem, though I die old,
A foolish, passionate man.

These days, “thinks in a marrow-bone” is more likely to be stated as “know in one's gut” and although there is plenty of solid information, both research and informed opinion, of the harm that results from ageist language, I would know that even without the science and expertise.

“That I may seem though I die old, a foolish, passionate (wo)man,” no one can convince me that ageist language is not discriminatory, prejudicial and cruel.


Ronni, I care! Thanks for writing this!

I care, too!

Unfortunately, you're preaching to the choir.
Maureen Dowd should watch who she's calling granny. According to her bio, she is 63 which does not exactly put her in the "Spring chicken" category.
The word "Granny" implies that all old ladies have grandchildren and that "Gramps" is a term of endearment. Although it hasn't happened yet, the first person to call me "Grampa" or "Pops", is looking for a pop in the nose.

I agree, Ronni. Thank you for writing this for today.

I agree; both with your dislike of the derisive terms used to address elders and with your aversion to Maureen Dowd's columns.

It never would have occurred to be to be insulted or demeaned by the word, "Granny." Maybe that's because I've never been one and wished over the years that I could have had that special bond with a couple of kids. To me, it's just a title of honor like mother or father.

Well Done Ronni - of course you must keep raising this issue - it is important and like all language bias it will take a long time to change - and I do love passionate people - we need more of them - many thanks.

I could not agree more with your belief in the power - both positive and negative - of language. Given that I was trained in a literary field [as opposed to linguistics, where I might have seen things more "scientifically], I react to language constantly. Language heals, helps, expands us; but words also kill, lead to violence, maim, hurt, in ways that are witnessed every day by all of us. It is NEVER a matter of "just words."

So more power to you. To anyone who holds us to the grindstone to beware what we say.

And I agree with you about Maureen Dowd. To my mind, she is a fairly emptyheaded joke.

And there I go, with my words--

I sometimes wonder why you put so much effort into a blog that must be a lot of work. You're not selling anything, so it's not about getting rich. But now I know. You have a powerful need to communicate things you see as worthwhile. It's a passion. In that, you - and we - are blessed. Thanks for being so passionate.

I've with you on this one. Language that demeans is never okay, except perhaps in the middle of a verbal spitting match. And it is not smart then, though hard to resist.

When "Granny" is used without reference to family relationships it is merely a cutesy synonym for "over the hill female."

I find Maureen Dowd reliably superficial and loathsome in her opinions.

I prefer to take another tack: What goes around comes around. Something tells me that a certain proportion are going to be blindsided when they're left standing on the other side of the fence.

As my mother used to say: "Time wounds all heels"

I'm with you on this & with Ruth-Ellen as well. Language is far more powerful than we imagine & once more the bar is becoming lower & lower in all areas, but especially language, not just ageism. We've lost the "art of" so much today. Dee

Note to self: don't bother reading M.Dowd. Something about her writing style makes me want to run. She's not provocative, simply provoking, and done with no concept of (self)dignity.

Also agree with others on importance of language. And of being Present and Aware when using it or listening.

I totally agree with you. I care very much what I am called, and if you aren't a grandchild of mine, granny is completely out of bounds and disrepectful. "Grandmother" is fine, but granny assumes a familiarity that is not welcome or warranted.

What really gets my goat is women who demean other women and elders who demean other elders.

Just so you know you aren't alone out there.

Best regards.

Being in the UK I have no idea who O'Dowd is, and it doesn't sound as if I'm missing anything. As ever with words its context that counts and from your quotes it seems clear that she's using it as a put down, but it seems that journalists have always looked for the dismissive and demeaning term when writing about their opponents. Its a habit that is spreading to the population at large sadly. There isn't a day that passes when I don't read, somewhere on social media, snide comments about women, the elderly or some other group. Sometimes its laziness of course, its easier to apply labels than think, but too often it masks real nastiness of spirit.

"...condescending, misogynist, distorted"...I'd say that Maureen Dowd describes her own post well. I find 'granny' as descriptor for a woman who has been First Lady, a NY Senator, and U.S. Secretary of State to be hugely condescending! ...even as I wish that the Democrats could find someone with a bit less baggage for their presidential candidate. I do worry that she can't beat whoever the Republicans come up with, and I do *not* want the next President to be a Republican!

...and, not so incidentally, I'd be insulted (at 71) if someone other than close friend or family called me 'Granny', too!

I'm with you 100% on this one - especially the distaste for Maureen Dowd. For many reasons, but especially because of her column, I stopped subscribing to the digital NY Times - as well as receiving their "free" feeds on my Facebook page. Quite frankly, most major media grates on my nerves and disappoints me. And this is a sad thing as I was a "communications" professional for 40 plus years before retiring.

I assumed Dowd was just echoing (or mocking) Clinton's stated intention to play up her grandmother status in an effort to appear more like the rest of us. Context is everything, of course. I usually think of "granny" as meaning a pleasant, kindly older woman that people would wish was their own grandmother. But it could, of course, be used in a derogatory tone.

Thank you. It IS important.


I read Dowd's column yesterday as well and felt as though I'd been punched in the stomach thinking here we go (Hillary).

Nothing infuriates me more than hearing so-called cutesy terms. Use one on me and you'll be told or reminded of my name.

I respect and agree with your feelings about this Ronni. The pen is mightier than the sword. Whatever the topic -- ageism, sexism, gender orientation, poverty, class, homelessness, mental illness -- so often lazy, dogmatic, conventional thinking is relied on rather than thoughtful, respectful, intelligent consideration and communication, and the results advance nothing. Thank you for sticking to the high road on this.

I care too. Very much, as much as I did and do when demeaning language is used against women. Women don't react and it becomes common to insult women.Ageism is like mysoginy: everybody does it, nobody cares.
thank you for your blog

What I like about your column today is that it heightens awareness and sensitivity to how language can be used to pigeon hole us. Of course the energy for my awareness is a direct result of reading opinions such as yours. Each time I do, my hackles stand up a little quicker and my retort is more formed. What I value most about Hilary is her experience, what scares me about her opponents is their thereof.

I agree that words influence thought.
Those who disagree probably still don't care if someone refers to them as "girls or ladies".
We fought to hard to change demeaning labels to settle now.

To be clear, this post is not meant as political support for Hillary Clinton, nor is it the opposite.

It is about ageist language at whomever it is directed. Had Maureen Dowd used the same language for Ann Coulter or Michelle Bachmann, I would have written the same post.

If an idea is "right" it doesn't become "wrong" because others disagree. There are many opinions out there and we all can hold to our own. But some things just are what they are and a differing opinion doesn't make it debatable.
I think people don't want to deal with it because they have too much to deal with as it is. Makes sense but doesn't negate your point.
Hey, even Moses had to have his arms propped up so that the Children of Israel could prevail in battle!
Hang in there.

You don't have to convince me, Ronni. Even my own grandchildren don't call me Granny and if they tried I'd correct them in short order. To me the word is as demeaning as the "n" word.

As for MoDo, the Queen of Snark, I agree with Simone that she's provoking, not provocative.

Thanks for your insightful comments about ageist language. But some people don't even know they are being ageist, whether it's a word or a thought. Recently, the CEO of AARP gave a speech titled "Disruptive Aging" - at a conference of aging professionals. Despite her anti-ageist theme, when she referred to AARP's new tablet (the RealPad) she emphasized that it was developed "for the unique needs of the age 50+ population." What are the "unique needs" of 100 million people? Seems rather ageist, don't you think?

I agree with you, Ronni.

Words matter and pretending that they do not is not to our advantage.

More to the point of Dowd's rhetoric for me, is the
stereotype of women hating women and demeaning in such a manner that is so school yardish.

Is this a forerunner to what Hillary faces? Probably
so. The cowardly men will sic the female dogs (just to avoid the word) on her at every turn.

Does it say something about our societal gender to have such childish, unprofessional nonsense come from the mouths of women who supposedly "have come a long way"?

Has anyone read David Brooks' new book about
character? I just heard a bit of discussion on NPR
today, not enough to really know the content, however, the discussion seemed so pertinent to this discussion. He is saying we have lost our moral character. Isn't that what we are talking about as we discuss the use of language that is
dividing us rather than bringing us together?

And, Ronni, you are most definitely a person of consistent moral character as you take your views to paper. THANK YOU!

While, the blog may not be about Dowd

Thanks for leading the charge against ageist language. You nailed it when you noted that an ‘innocent’ comment fuels discrimination in the workplace, in health care and in legislation.

Hilary is going to be attacked by every derogatory term in the lexicon. I trust she is prepared, because it is going to be beyond ugly.

As for language--sometimes i think of the old people I admire--in my case it is often literary lions--and apply the term Senior Citizen to them. The effect is laughable.

Words do hurt whether people say they mean to or not but why else would you say something like that. Even if it seems humorous to the one using the ageist words instead of it being mean-spirited, it was still intended to laugh at and not with someone.

I worked at a deli recently part time and got along with the small, mostly younger staff there. There was this one young man, about 22, who though he was genuinely friendly would routinely would refer to me as "old man". It got to a point one day where it was said one too many times that I told how it made me feel and would he please quit saying that.

"Ah Larry" he'd say "I'm just playing with you"

This young man is close to being morbidly obese so I asked him if I were to call him fat ass routinely did he think it would bother him?

His expression and the expression of others there when I said that couldn't believe I brought that image up about him, to which I said "That very look and feeling you are experiencing right now is not unlike what I feel when you "playfully" refer to me as old man.

All reference to my age stopped after that but shortly thereafter I simply wasn't called back anymore to work part time for them.

No biggy. I just worked there anyway to fill time and make a little extra pocket change. But think how some people who do depend on their job are forced to remain silent for fear that they too might be fired or ostracized.

Can you imagine a headline that read 'Nigger tumbles down a cliff"? Well it would probably have been OK to print that in 1936, the year I was born. Looking back it is really easy to see how racist language went from being a normal, everyday aspect of speech to a no-no. Our goal is--or should be--to achieve the same with ageist language.

No, it won't stop ageism completely, any more than it stopped racism completely but it sure as hell can make a lot of difference.

Challenging language patterns is a way of waking people up and it works. Every person challenged is forced to stop for a moment and think about their attitude. Calling people (especially journalists) out for ageist language is an important work we can all take part in and I believe we jolly well should. Because ageism, like racism and sexism (and I'd add speciesism too, but that's not even on most people's agenda at all yet) is just plain WRONG.

On the other hand, we can take the name and make it our own to give it power, like The Raging Grannies of Portland Oregon. Lots of feminists took on the word "bitch" and made it a good thing to be. I feel the same about Granny. Empower ourselves, empower the word.

Excellent post and terrific comments today.

This is obviously not the first time that Hillary's been subject to a combination of sexism and ageism. When she was Secretary of state, remember how she was criticized for "looking tired" and for wearing a scrunchie of all things.

@Larry, Your story was powerful. It's unfortunate that people at that job had no problem with your young co-worker's language but found your response completely unacceptable.

Good comments all. I associate the word "granny" with rocking chairs and knitting needles. I no longer knit and a rocking chair is for soothing babies.

The salutation I most object to is "young lady" and it brings a sharp retort from me. I would like to be brave enough to give that person a "pop in the nose" as Bruce has said he would do if called "Pops" or "Granpa".

I would hate to be called "granny" and prefer Nana, but the other grandmother beat me to it having had other grandchildren before ours were born, so I am grandma. But 'granny' - NEVER.

As to Maureen Dowd - I have always found her column snarky and without valid content. She is calling Hillary "granny" the same way she called Obama "Barry" and it is meant to be demeaning in both cases. You can bet that you will be seeing the word "granny' in her columns frequently now.

"Sticks and Stones
May break my Bones,
But Words can Wound Forever."
It is Election Season. And the Far-Right has started to test which few words have the most pejorative implications with the voters. The Far-Right cannot use outright inflammatory words, such as the 'N - - ' word, or the many crass synonyms for 'woman'. But they CAN use innocuous words. Such as 'granny', and the many others which have Multiple Implications. These are 'Code Words'. And we will see the most carefully-selected, hurtful and most powerful of these Code Words used to implant negative thoughts in the minds of 'undecided voters' concerning Ms. Clinton, for the next 18 months. No, Ronni, I don't think this is about 'ageism'. It's testing for Code Words.
Almost-Great Grampa.

Ronni, I couldn't agree more with this post. I know the power of words and , like some of the other commenters, I believe "granny" was chosen for its negative effect. With a youth obsessed culture, even true grandmothers prefer another term for that status. I applaud your courage in pointing out the ageism which surrounds us. Every last word is contagious.

I agree with and thank you, Ronni.

Darlene: I really hate being called "young lady" too. It happened just a few days ago on my birthday, said by a well meaning youngish friend so I let it go.

It is ageist and sexist. This coming after Reagan, the senior Bush, John McCain, and now Hillary -at the tender age of 67- is dismissed as "Granny"?
I want to say that it's hard to take seriously but we know that if you tell the big lie loudly and often enough it will be accepted as truth. The snide, dismissive remarks are even easier to get through.
By the way, Jeb Bush? Four grandchildren.

Maureen Dowd is always cheap, frivolous, and insulting. It's what she does for a living. All the same, I just about choked when I realized WHO she was calling 'Granny'... A new low even for her.

You're absolutely right, Ronni. Though I'd say, the important thing isn't which word is used. What's wrong is the idea that the most important thing for readers to know about a person is that she (or he) has grandchildren. Granny is picked more often mostly because it's shorter and headline writers like short words. In the UK I bet the headlines often use Gran.

Don't call me "granny," unless you want your a$$ kicked mightily from Montreal to Mexico.

One hundred percent agree with you, Ronni.

I'm with you, Ronni. Name-calling isn't cute - particularly when it comes to politics. One of the reasons that I wasn't so hot on Pres Obama in 2008 was that I thought him dismissive in his treatment of Secy Clinton when they appeared together - in words and in gestures.

I've been reading your blog for years. You didn't change my mind. You didn't need to. But you have raised my consciousness about the implicit and explicit power of words which means I try and educate others.

I do so agree! Granny is an insulting word. I chose Grams when I became one. I hate all of those demeaning terms. GRRR.

You are right. As Maureen Dowd is concerned, she is writing to fill space, that is how she earns her living. The more people who read it the longer she will last.

How about if we all forward our complaints to the New York Times? We could address them to Granny Dowd for emphasis.

Half of your REGULAR readers dismiss your point? I'm appalled.
MY comment? GO, RONNI GO!

I detest the word "granny"--it is dismissive and demeaning as far as I'm concerned. I didn't have kids (by choice); therefore "granny" doesn't apply to me me, and that's just a biological fact. I am "Grandma B." to my husband's/our grandchildren and great-grandchildren, but they know better than to tag me "granny"!

Senator/Secretary of State Clinton has an exceptionally impressive resume on so many levels. The fact that her daughter recently had a child is totally irrelevant to her candidacy, except perhaps to the extent she feels that it makes her more "relateable".

Darlene, I'm with you 100% on the appellation "young lady". After many months of silence, I (finally) called out a 50-ish checker at my favorite supermarket for calling me that every time I had to check out at her station. I was civil and polite but firm. She hasn't done it since.

Charlotte D, that's a GREAT idea!!

As we think, so we speak. Terms like granmy and gramps or young lady do have the speaker's thoughts behind them. Even if subconsciously (which I doubt) they are meant to portray a certain type of person. Usually the speaker doesn't see her- or himself ever being in that category.

On another note, I have always thought of your blog, Ronnie, as a salon (gathering). Today's fits the definition perfectly: "A salon is a gathering of people under the roof of an inspiring host, held partly to amuse one another and partly to refine the taste and increase the knowledge of the participants through conversation. " (From Wikipedia.)

Kudos and thanks for another fine post.

Oops...I meant "Ronni!" Sorry.

Hold on a bit, all you folks who are interpreting 'Granny' as an insulting name in and of itself, no matter who says it. That's got to be very culture-dependent. To me, it's the name of my own much-loved maternal grandmother.

It's fine, I would say, if it comes from someone who loves you. But any term of affection from a stranger is demeaning.

I've always hated dress shop salespersons who call me dear. I had a male stock clerk call me hon in the supermarket today. I replied as I wheeled my cart away, "I'm not your hon."

And even so... context. There was this pizza restaurant owner, a man about my age, who called me 'young lady' and I didn't mind a bit. I could tell by the way he said it that he was flirting with me, just for fun, and it put a smile on my face for the rest of the day.

Unless it is said with honest love--- it is hurtfully teasing or subtly (or not subtly) insulting --

Whoa ! It seems that a bunch of us are so thin skinned we are transparent. I can see right though you! Oh well, to each his/her own. I was fortunate enough to have had four Grannys, four Gramps and to have lived long enough to be a great one myself.

My son-in-law began to call me
"granny" ostensibly as an affectionate name. He's the joker type and enjoys teasing a bit. He's the only one to do this and I don't let him get away with it completely. I've taken to calling him "Sonny" just to keep him in his proper place in the order of things.

I too resent the use of terms of endearment from people who serve me in a commercial or medical setting. I've politely confronted more than one Young Lady, Sweetie, Honey, etc speaker, telling them my preferrence for M'am or Ms. I hope it's done some good.

Keep on calling out people like Ms. Dowd. Good on ya!

Hope that many of us will share our feelings directly with Maureen Dowd. I have shared my outrage and I think this blog and comments would be enlightening.

My grandchildren call me GaGa. The third one started it, and it caught on with all four. I am tired of the disrespect I get from the young, whether it's a cop or a computer salesman, or that woman at National Tire and Battery who tried to charge me a fortune to fix something that wasn't even wrong. Yes, it does matter what I am called, and wrinkles do not equal stupidity.

maureen dowd hasn't written a thought-provocking column for years, if ever. so many sinecures at the NYT. david brooks? ross douthat? the triumvirate of dumb.

Whoa ! It seems that a bunch of us are so thin skinned we are transparent. I can see right though you! Oh well, to each his/her own. I was fortunate enough to have had four Grannys, four Gramps and to have lived long enough to be a great one myself

Do you call complete strangers "Granny" or "Gramps" because that's what the post is about.
"Granny" is just another way to reduce women to their biological function and "other" us.
Call me Granny, Dear or Young Lady, and you will get a fucking earful.

Language use is vitally important in forming our attitudes. This ageism issue reminds me of the 70s, the women's movement, and the ridicule and eye-rolling around the significance of changing the "Ladies" bathroom door labels to "Women," and "postman" to "mail carrier," etc.

In any case, women now work as mail carriers. Before the 70s, there weren't any.

Your posts about ageism are so important, Ronnie. Keep it up. It's the beginning of consciousness raising.

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