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.
DEATH AND DYING
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.”
Aid in dying
Now it's your turn.