As this site gets a breath of new life (you’re getting this on Wednesday, for example; I’ve got a new schedule now that will allow me to publish more often and still accomplish all the other tasks at hand), I felt like bringing back this old ‘editor’s corner’ feature. I have no idea how often I’ll write these, but there are certainly enough topics in any given week to find something to explore.
As I perused headlines for our ‘Read All About It’ news roundup, I saw an item from NPR on ‘the most despised and acceptable terms for aging’ The short take is that pretty much any word that indicates age is not liked, while some, like ‘senior’ and ‘old’ are classed with the infamous euphemisms of our day, such as ‘the f-word’ and ‘the n-word.’ Senior is now ‘the s-word’, though you might have trouble knowing what it was out of context.
It’s time to retire the wishful adage that sticks and stones may break my bones but words will never hurt me. Clearly words either hurt us, or we choose to be hurt by them. I have no trouble referring to myself or others as old, despite being chastised for it when I do, as if I’ve revealed a case of leprosy. When I look to nature, I see majestic old trees and want to be one someday. My computer gets old. My beloved cats get old. Do you think they resist being called what they are? At 55, I’ll admit I’m not most people’s idea of old yet, which gets repeatedly extended in a culture desperate to remain either young or forever ‘older.’ I have no problem with having old bones, old skin, old teeth, except for the natural consequences of their aging. And to a ten year old I am way past old. This is not a word that hurts me or that I choose to be hurt by. Nor is ‘senior’ and I don’t hesitate to ask for the senior discount at IHOP, which they offer starting at 55.
We have ‘reclaimed’ so many words (something I don’t always agree with, such as the word ‘queer’, but I’ve gotten used to it). Why not reclaim old and stop letting those who fear it determine our language options and how we feel about ourselves? Is internalized ageism any less destructive than internalized homophobia? I no more want to spend the rest of my life ‘older’ than I would want to live in a perpetual adolescence.
Fortunately I’ve reached a point where I don’t take much issue with other people’s word issues. But I also don’t have any intention of adding to my list of words I can’t say. After years of it, it becomes stifling, a state of constant self-censorship, and it is the antithesis of a free mind, the kind of mind I had as a child and hope to have as an old man. Sometimes I think I’d rather have the sticks and stones.