A few weeks ago, I was listening to the 6:00 news when my ears pricked up on a story about an “elderly” woman who was in a serious car accident. The report went on to talk about “the 72-year-old woman”. My first reaction of course was compassion and sympathy for the poor lady and her family, but my second reaction was: “Hold the presses! Since when is 72 elderly?”
I would not be a gentleman if I openly divulged my mother’s age to explain why this resonated so strongly, but let’s just say, I’m 50… you can do the math.
When Mom and I chatted that evening, she started talking about a news item that hit close to home and I completed her sentence with, “…about the ‘elderly’ 72 year old?” She said yes.
Later that evening, I wondered why that choice of words in particular elicited a reaction from both of us. I checked a few online dictionaries for a textbook definition of elderly and to my surprise, the consensus seems to read that it is the time after middle age but without any further elaboration.
This came as a relief because most of the septuagenarians I know are looking pretty darn chipper, enjoying a great quality of life and living longer, healthier lives.
I was also reassured that it was not just us who had an inkling that the word elderly seemed a tad inappropriate when I read a great NPR article by Linton Weeks called “An Age-Old Problem: ‘Who Is Elderly’?”
Mr. Weeks traces back the roots of the word to the 10th century, as suggested by the Oxford English Dictionary and defined as ‘in a wider sense, a predecessor, one who lived in former days’.” For centuries, the term elder commanded respect and reverence for their knowledge and wisdom.
But I think Mr. Weeks hits the nail on the head Continue reading