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Old Age Word Play

It cannot be settled among old people (or anyone else) at what age we become old. Ask 10 people, you'll get 10 answers and the older the person being questioned, the older he or she says old age kicks in.

I find it a joke and pathetic, those who say people aren't old until they are 80 or 85.

Like me, a lot of people who read this blog are word mavens so today, let's play around a bit with some of them that relate to being old.

When I started this blog 15 years ago, I made a conscious choice to use the word “old” which was not done then any more frequently than it is now.

In the beginning, as much as I wanted to change the dialogue about ageing, I was still in thrall to the prevailing culture and it was jarring to write the word “old” when most other people used such words as senior, golden ager, oldster and worse.

But repeated use made it feel normal within a week or two. I never think about it now except to lament that most people shun it. The word and people who are old are hated so much that people will not even say the word.

Here are a few that fall into that “worse” category - general descriptions for old people. These are recommended in an online story the authors of which I won't embarrass by naming.

(For wimps. Just use old.)

(Really? At what?)

(Old does not equal wise. I know a lot of dumb old people.)

(Baked at 350 degrees?)

(Way too twee, and few achieve it anyway.)

(What the hell does that even mean in regard to an old person?)

(Too obviously working overtime to avoid “old.” Just use old.)

(You'll find them among the rows of daffodils.)

In addition to “old” itself, I like “elder” for general use but not “elderly.” A geriatrician once told me that she and others of her cohort reserve elderly for old people who are frail and sickly. I think that's a good choice; it makes an important and useful distinction.

Although it sounds derogatory, I like the British word “wrinklies” - it always makes me smile.

The most common euphemisms for “death” - that is, passed, passed on, passed away, etc. - annoy me almost as much as those descriptions of old people above. What's wrong with saying, “Aunt Jane died?”

If you'd like a good laugh, here's a long list at Wikipedia of euphemisms for death. You've heard some of them all your life. A few others are quite clever.

Which brings us to “death with dignity”. That's what Oregon and some other states call their assisted death laws. It bothers me every time I hear it not least because it is difficult to use grammatically but further, I haven't been able to work out why taking state-sanctioned drugs to die provides dignity that dying in any other way does not.

Death comes to us all. It is a profound event however it happens and whistling past the graveyard notwithstanding (see link above), it should not be dishonored by misguided political correctness.

Here are some reasonably good alternatives to “death with dignity.”

Physician-assisted suicide
Physician-assisted death
Aid in dying
Assisted death

Now it's your turn.


I find Death with Dignity very appropriate. Many people have horrific deaths prolonged unnecessarily. Have you ever seen a dying person with their hands restrained because they are trying to remove tubes, catheters, etc.? People linger for days or months. Most of these folks would love some dignity.

I like alte kaker.... with a big wink

Add to the list of euphemisms: Dirt Nap.

I like the term senior or seniors. But old and elders are OK terms too. I too think of the word elderly as best reserved for quite old and frail people. I do not at my age of 72, think of myself as elderly.

For death, I think it is OK to use euphemisms. Or not. I do prefer to say someone has passed, however. It seems a good word for what happens as we die, and it implies possibility for continued existence after death, although no one can possibly know about that.

The various euphemisms for death and dying are appalling to me. I've let my family know that my obituary should say "she died". Of course, I also tell them that whatever they do following my death will be of exactly zero consequence to me - that they should do as they please.

As to the age at which one becomes old, I've always stuck with the following schedule: 1-30 years of age = young; 30-60, middle-aged; 60-90, old; and 90-up, ancient. If I live long enough, I'll join the ancients in a bit less than 9 years.

Spot on! I am old. My husband died, as I stated in his obituary. I reserve the word “dignity” for the living, our innate worth as human beings.

I'm 68 and still working full-time. When I started my new job in 9/17, the HR person who introduced me around the office called me "seasoned" 3 times.

I am teaching my granddaughter to say older rather than old. She recently saw a women with white hair and said "look at the old woman with white hair". I corrected her to older woman. Not sure why except some 'old' people are sensitive about being called old and I wouldn't want her to inadvertently upset someone.

Love love love Cop Car’s comment ❤️👏🏻👏🏻👏🏻

My granddaughter, who is four years old, has taken to lovingly clasping my face in her tiny hands, gazing at me, and saying, "Gramma, you have an old face." I agree with her, and tell her it is true. I have an old face, because I am old. She doesn't seem to put any particular value on "old." She is just observing, and I kind of love it.

Today's blog was just like it was in English class when I was a lot younger.

Conjugate: to die -- I die, you die, he/she/one dies … la, la, la together we die, you and your spouse dies, they die. Oh, hell, let's live who wants to act or be "old" -- that's why I tabbed myself "ole guy" -- "old" just sounds … well, "old" -- out-of-date, useless, not worthy … etc., etc., etc.

So, that's why I blog -- it's my relief valve and keeps me on the "young-ish" side of that barrier called "old age". I must admit that I "hurt" in places that I did not hurt before. I can't remember names and places with "google". I "hurt" in places that I did not hurt before. When I look in the mirror, I do not recognize that "ole guy". I hurt in places that I did not hurt before. And finally, I repeat myself sometimes … it's that memory "thingey".

Have a very youthful, good day … the ole guy at 94 yrs, 8 months, 4 days 'n countin'

I, too, like the term "Death with Dignity". I think most ppl would like to die with dignity - meaning quickly & peacefully. My mother died recently & it was not easy to witness - it took days of loud rattling rasping straining breathing. She wanted to die with dignity, but we don't live in one of those states. It was a hard death for her & for her family who witnessed it.

I also like the word "passed" or "transitioned" because I believe the spirit in each of us passes on to whatever awaits after this physical world ends - another dimension, universe, consciousness, beyond space & time.

Elder is the term and I apply it to anybody over 60. Over 70, one becomes elderly. No big
deal. Death? I describe my eventual death to others as: when I "croak" or when I "bump
off". From my younger years: "Kick the bucket". I have never met anyone who failed at
dying, no matter what it is called. Everybody thus far has passed that final exam. B

When I started out in journalism I was taught that we did not use euphemisms such as "passed away." The person died, you said so, and that was it. In the newspaper, you only saw words like "passed away" in the obituaries that families paid to run.

I guess that attitude sank in for me because I really dislike the euphemisms; I cringe when I hear them. I see nothing wrong with "died," and will use it in my obituary, which I intend to write while I am still here.

Although I'm still relatively healthy and very active, I consider that I got old at 70 (I'm 71). Something happened on that 70th birthday--there was a shift in the way I thought about myself. Up to then I had said, "I'm getting old." But when I hit 70 I knew, "I am old." And it was okay. Now I proudly claim the adjective. "I'm old. Wanna make something of it?"

Now I'm mildly offended by some of the euphemisms for age: Senior citizen, golden ager, give me a break. I'm old and there's nothing wrong with that.

Here in Canada it is called Medical Assistance in Dying or M.A.I.D. This was an option my 96 year old father chose last year after a brief illness. He was adamant he wanted to go on his terms ... and he achieved that. It was very peaceful and we were all there with him.

I didn't realize I was old until 3 years ago (when I was 71) and a guy in a car pulls up next to me and said "Hey pops, where can i buy a lottery ticket around here?" Pops indeed. I felt like hitting him with my cane.

I have a question-why do so many of you care what word others use? As long as the words are not hurtful what possible difference would it make to you?

I so dislike euphemisms! I don't understand such avoidance of calling things what they are. Using euphemisms does not change what is happening, but we humans love to paint "nice" pictures of everything.

I am happy to call myself old. Many family members and a few friends did not live long enough to be able to call themselves old. It is an honor to be old.

Dead is dead. Not saying the word does not change the reality that we will all die one day - hopefully when we are really old.

I am in agreement with you, Ronni.

I don't take too well to euphemisms -- I identify with Cop Car and Marcia with their simple and accurate use of the term "die."

And I am also reminded of my Tante Else, a German aunt who emigrated to the US and ultimately perfected her English enough to communicate clearly with the hospital where she eventually found work as a nurse. Only once did she mess up that part about "clear."

She had been caring for a patient on her wing who had been through some difficult rounds of an unnamed illness - and had on this particular morning seen the woman's exhausted husband dozing in a waiting room. She gently woke him up - and suggested he head home for a good nap -- and added that she would keep a careful eye on his wife. He obliged.

Later on, she happened to look up and coming around the corner with a nurse was the wife, whose fever had broken and who seemed to be improving! My aunt waved and smiled - the patient did the same.

Not long after, the still-exhausted husband came to her desk. She smiled at him and then brightly announced "Your wife just passed away down the hall!"

I am not sure how the husband reacted - but someone corrected my aunt's choice of words. And all was fine.

But this became a family joke for years to come..

And when I use "pass" or other substitutes for "die," I always think of Tante Else.

I have always hated the euphemism He/she passed. I want to ask what did they pass? I am with Cop Car 100%.

I am an ancient and label myself as such, but I did like being called a "classic" by one nurse.

I like the simplicity of "old", "dead/died" and "medically assisted death". I strongly object to the word suicide being used for an assisted death. It has too much baggage associated with it.

All the euphemisms are for those who are uncomfortable using the most direct, accurate terms (old, died). At 76 I call myself "old." (I didn't think or feel "old" until a cancer diagnosis at 72.) It's other people who might call me a senior, elder, etc., probably because they are just trying to be polite (I particularly dislike elder; it sounds like a church official and I'm an atheist.) And when I die, I will have died. Only those uncomfortable with the word "died" will resort to "passed" or whatever. Or the euphemisms will be used by those trying to be gentle when addressing my family.

As for the label "Death with Dignity" -- it's an effort to soften the label (they had to call it something) in addition to avoiding any reference to physicians who, for personal or ethical reasons, do not want to be labeled as participants. I tend to think of it not so much as the drugs causing a dignified death as a death while the person still has some dignity. I dread the thought of being reduced to a mindless, helpless, incontinent, undignified bag of bones before I die.

Debra, above, asks: "I have a question-why do so many of you care what word others use? As long as the words are not hurtful what possible difference would it make to you?"

It's not about individual selves, it is about how the culture treats people in various categories who become marginalized when derogatory words and phrases are repeatedly used to describe them. There is a reason people who use the n word are sometimes fired from their jobs (not often enough).

There is a reason we generally call out people who use disparaging language about skin color, religion, ethnic origins, sexual orientation and a whole lot of other "isms".

It is a whole lot bigger issue than a single person caring about it one way or another. Words matter. Choose them well.

Hi Ronni, you choose the best subjects. This one made me realize not that I mind being and being called old but my family does. When my granddaughter says "you're old Meme" my son and D-I-L tell her not to say that. Then I realized that because of that I stop myself from saying or thinking that I'm old. But I am old. And it's fine - I'm going to work on my son and his wife and ask them to "call a spade a spade."

Passing instead of dead irritates me no end and I made the comment to a person who used the word. She pointed out that some, if not many, people just can't bring themselves to say the word, that it either scares them, or makes them uncomfortable. So, now I'm quiet and try to understand that unlike most of us on this blog we/I have come to grips with both "old" and "dead."

Thank you, again, Ronni for your choice of subjects, words of wisdom and thanks to all who comment.

Well, this is certainly timely as today I reach the 3/4 century mark, and I am sure I'm in the last quarter of my life. I guess that makes me "old", though must admit when my grandchildren and son recently affixed that label to me, I did take offense, a bit!

As Odette said, I too prefer to call a spade a spade. I say he/she "died" though what I hear more often in reference to these same people is "passed away". Similar to not wanting to accept the label "old", I think euphemisms can be a tool of denial. I would much prefer to think my mother/brother/partner/son has "passed away" to another land rather than to acknowledge the finality of their death. To move on through grief, I, at least, must accept the fact that they are "dead" and I'm highly unlikely to see them again, though would like to be pleasantly suprised.

I find I am annoyed when someone says "passed away" especially when the one who "passed away" is someone I loved. For all practical purposes that person is dead. In my life, she is resoundingly absent! And I am old.

Years ago, I was doing errands with my daughter and her two children, four and six, I think. The four year old said, "Be nice to grandma. She is an old fart."

I am in total agreement with you on the use of words such as Elder. And how about the word 'Younger'. I like and use that one, too! And I don't see a dividing line between the two. One just slides from Younger to Elder in their own sweet time!

Love your thoughtful, and thought-producing blogs, Ronni.

But the phrase "death with dignity" seems to me to be appropriate. I watched my pain-ridden mother trying desperately to pull out her catheter, her arms flailing about, her moans so loud they could be heard far down the hall, and WHY? A religious woman, she prayed to be released from the agony. Once, this strong-minded matriarch nearly was stamping her foot as she demanded, "God, take me. You TAKE ME NOW!" She was given morphine every four hours. Finally, after several days, God listened.

But Oregon has a "death with dignity act", and that would be my choice for an exit.

In Native American cultures the old are revered. "Elder" is a term of great respect. Younger members of your own Nation, and others, address you as respectfully as Grandmother or Grandfather.

With people living longer all the time I think the age of "old" needs to be adjusted upwards. In a recent survey of adult Albertans (Canada) the majority said that old age begins at 73. (Geez, I'm 73 and some days I feel like 103! But inside I can't believe I'm *that* old. Where'd my life go?)

When you read that I have "walked on" you'll know I'm dead.

My father had medical aid in dying on June 8th. He lived in California, thank goodness. When he was diagnosed in October, he said, "I've had a long life (85 years), and it's been a good life. I'm old and will be ready to die when I no longer feel well." He called himself old, so who am I to call him anything else?
I like the term "medically-assisted death." When asked, I say that Dad took "life-ending drugs/medication" on the day he died. "My dad died" has a nice ring to it, even though the fact itself makes me so sad.

I agree with Cop Car, Susan R. and quite a few others. At 82 I am old. I do disagree slightly with Cop Car in that these days I think middle age can extend to 65. When I die, I will be dead!

I think the term "death with dignity" was originally intended to describe the ability of individuals to maintain the dignity of having some degree of control over how their lives will end. I'm unequivocally with Susan R. in that I want to die BEFORE I have lost all of "me" at the end of life.

I have been a strong supporter of physician assistance in dying since I was in my 30s--before it appeared on the national radar screen. I think the option should be more available for discussion and consideration by debilitated elders in failing health with no prospects for improvement. Many--maybe even including me--would end up not taking the final medication when the time comes, but having the option would be a HUGE relief.

Great comments and a few laughs as well!

It made me think that at least one of my 6 grandkids have probably called me an "old fart", though not to my face. I'd like to think I would find it hilarious!

Agree with "died" rather than "passed". It is what it is.
Death with Dignity ok with me. When I choose this for myself, barring a heart attack or some other immediate death, I want to die with my dignity and not hooked up through every orifice in my body to machines and gadgets. Nor do I want to linger in assisted living which would be like dying in prison to me.

LOVE the interactions between all us readers. I end up thinking about the topic throughout the day, which I guess is what Ronni intends.

I think elder is a good word, but in my women's discussion group we laughingly refer to ourselves as crones or old wives. I agree that the Brits' wrinkles is kind of fun, but they also call old ladies "old dears" which is very condescending.

And when I DIE, I won't pass. Saying someone passed makes me think they died during a giant fart. Or maybe we could say that someone has gone to Glory? Euphemisms in general aggravate me.

There is a funny poem by Lewis Carrol - "You are old, Father William, the young man said," that I recommend to you all. It certainly shows that our current attitudes about aging have been around for at least 100 years.

"He stuck his spoon in the wall" (meaning "he died") is a curious expression I've come across in several historical novels set in the English Regency period.

At the age of 81, I don't mind being referred to as old, elderly, senior, etc. What I DO mind is becoming invisible to younger people while shopping and at social events or meetings!

This old bat likes Pro-Choice Check-out.
And I always laughed when the CSI forensic team remarked that someone had DFO'd (Done Fell Over).

I use the word 'old' to annoy people of all ages. I constantly say things like, "I'm fine for an old guy" and "I can't do this anymore because I'm old" and "When you're old like I am..."

And I hear, "Stop saying you're old! You're not old!"

The best part of being old is saying you're old. People really hate it.

And saying it never gets old.

Pro-Choice Check Out is new to me, and I'm going to use it all the time! Love it.

I use "older" when describing someone older than me. I'm 64. What I find funny is older people who tell me I'm young. I'm not. Everyone relates to me like I'm a grandmother. I'm not. I know I look old. My face & neck, my overall skin, my energy & my joints are not young. People don't relate to me like I'm young.

I think when I start receiving SSA, I'll refer to myself as old.

I sometimes use passed away. It's a conversational softener.

Passed away is also cultural. I have a friend who is African American and she says passed away or passed.

I think all these words to show age are funny and I had not thought about them. Being French and English my 3rd language I usually think in French. We say of an older person “une personne âgée” or an aged person, that is may be what you call senior. Then we say “une personne très âgée” a person very aged, maybe 65-70 then we say “une personne d’un grand âge” a person of a grand age, and that is over 80.
Another way, very used in France is to say “une personne du 3eme age” a person of the 3rd age, meaning over 60, then “une personne du 4eme age” meaning over 80. This is the way my mother would talk about it, so when she said une dame du 4eme age, I knew she was talking about a lady 80 or over. Of course here you only call meat well aged!

And then you have the snobs in France who use English to show that they are smart, they say “une mamie” to mean a grandmother or an old lady, “un papie” to mean a grandfather or old guy, and “un or une senior” to be someone in their 70s and up. They think it is chic.

As for dead when my husband died I wrote to my French family and friends that my husband “est décèdé”. I guess it is a noun in English and one can’t say “my husband deceased last month” it is not grammatical correct? But in French it is, and it is used instead of dead (mort.) And by the way words don’t bother me when they are in English. When I swear, it is always in French, it feels so much more satisfying.

Well, you guys may die - I will tip. And I will avoid death by going into a big sleep.

I think Death with Dignity is a fine phrase. I’d much rather die with some dignity still in tact or the ability to chose my own time and place of my death rather than to be bedridden in soiled diapers, drooling, stuck in some nursing home or being forced to live when your quality of life is gone and you are suffering. You could also call it Death with Respect.

I usually talk about "us old guys."

Thank you Ronni for stimulating so many engaging comments from your readers. I'm late to this party for a variety of reasons, but here I am . Why. follows...

This article showed up in my Nurses Newsletter today and and while most of the article was fague and noncommittal one paragraph simply 'lit my fire'.

Kaiser Health News © 2019
"Suicide prevention experts contend that while it's normal to think about death as we age, suicidal ideation is a sign that people need help. They argue that all suicides should be avoided by addressing mental health and helping seniors live a rich and fulfilling life.''

Site Melissa Bailey. In Secret, Seniors Discuss 'Rational Suicide' - Medscape - Jun 26, 2019.

It is my heart felt belief that only the older persons themselves can truly decide if life is still "rich and fulfilling". Should I become too confused, lonely, and in pain (regardless of the cause) to decide ANYTHING, my son has PROMISED to make that decision for me. I have on hand the necessary 'pills'. It is all written down and secured with the lawyer who helped me do the will here in Oregon.

It will be his final gift to me that is dignity, respect, honor, or whatever one chooses to call it. If there is an "Eternity" then I will be eternally grateful ! :-)

I never say someone passed away or "we lost him." Lost him/her where? I either say the person died or, if I'm talking about myself, I say "when I croak."

Great conversation. I have had no problem accepting the fact that I am an old lady.. I will be 87 in two weeks. But get annoyed by the many people who call me "young lady."

Oh Rosemary, I can't help myself...Re: your comment "we lost him."

I remember a comic years ago reporting a dialog with his friend who sadly said he had now "lost his second wife". The comic says "Well buddy, I can understand losing one wife, but losing two of them is downright irresponsible!!" And we have to laugh whenever we can. It is healthy for the mind and even the body....such as it is in the 9th decade of living. ;-(

Then too, seems to me that those that call me "young lady" are usually fellows. I also dislike it. My answer is "What are you talking about "Sonny", and how is your eyesight?


DFO - Done Fell Over?

Tears rolling down my face!!!!


My obit avoids the entire "died vs. passed away, etc." issue. The opening line says, "Richard J. Klade left us on _____ __ after ___years of living well, laughing often, and loving much."
Readers can use their own values to interpret that. As for "elder, senior, etc." labels, I prefer "mature adult." I thoroughly dislike being referred to as "honey, sweetie, or dearie" by anyone who is not a female lover. Males are encouraged to use "mate, pal, or buddy," although "sir" has a certain ring of respect to it. I see great virtue in everyone preparing their own obituary well before their death. Anyone who wants to read about that may access my Blog and search on "obituary'"

Two contributions to this thread:

1. About 20 years ago, when my professional practice was a Nutritionist in a medical school, I was invited to offer courses on upgrading the nutritional quality of meals served in aged care institutions.

This I did, in collaboration with colleagues whose skills were related to catering and food presentation.

The term we used for the beneficiaries of our courses - and accompanying publications - was ‘Elderly people’.

This was well accepted.

2. Moving along. My wife and I lived for six happy years in Hong Kong from 2005. Shortly after our arrival I attended a workshop on becoming a standup comedian.

This was new to me as I had not until then - at the age of 65 - considered doing this.0

At the end of the session I said to the presenter, “I have greatly enjoyed learning about the associated skills but I have no idea what my theme could be.”

He looked at me and said “You are at least 30 years older than others here. What about working on that?”0

Which I did, remarkably creatively - as ideas come to my attention in many ways - on

‘The weird ways of the

Wondering how this resonates with you as a ‘descriptor’ of older people?

Al Stewart
Adelaide, Australia

The best definition I have heard defining when someone gets old is...

... Always 15 years older than one is now.

Al Stewart

See how your Australian companions like this one, Al.

My husband's term for me and his own aging friends..."FULLY RIPE".

In his final years he loved working in our garden full of vegetables, fruit trees, berries and 5 kinds of grapes....even in Nevada's high dessert. ..believe it or not.

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