Let’s Skip the Silly Euphemisms and Embrace Our Age

“I will never refer to myself as ‘XX years young’ and expect others not to, either.
There is no shame in being old so let’s not manufacture it with patronizing crap like that.”

That bold declaration was posted by my friend, author Mark McNease (publisher of lgbtSr.org and the editor of my two books) recently on Facebook.

He elaborated a bit more in the ensuing comment thread:

“It was a TV reporter reporting on a 75-year-old woman whom he referred to as ‘75 years young’ and it just sounds so condescending. He should also call her ‘feisty’ and pat her on the head. There is an ageism and age-phobia in our aversion to the word ‘old’ that I have always hated. Old trees. Old dogs. Old cats. Old people. All beautiful.”

I’ve never really thought much about this phrase until now, but I agree with him. I find the expression ‘years young‘ to be a bit too contrived and cutesy for my taste, and it is indeed rooted in ageism. We use ‘years old’ to describe a person, animal, or object’s age throughout its entire life. Why change because someone reaches a certain number of chronological years? It’s as if we think, “Oh, wait. This person really is old. Well, let’s avoid calling attention to that fact or insulting them by dancing around it.”

The underlying meaning is clear: You’re <some number of> years old? Oh, that’s too bad. You poor thing.

I’m 61 years old, and I couldn’t be more proud of that fact. I’m still full of enthusiasm for life and I have plenty of things I’m looking forward to – probably more than I’ll ever get to accomplish. I wouldn’t want it any other way.

I’m thankful that I have reached an age at which I can justify retiring. I can finally start enjoying the money I’ve saved throughout my entire working career. I cherish the freedom of not having to answer to a boss – other than my spouse, of course.

Mark’s statement brought to mind my own pet peeve that I have encountered many, many times since I began reading retirement-related articles and writing quite a few of my own.

I think it’s silly and ageist that many websites that cater to older folks eschew referring to us as ‘seniors’ or ‘retirees’ and instead call us ‘boomers.’

This cloyingly oversweetened euphemism feels just as artificial and contrived as ‘years young.’ And it too is rooted in ageism and denial.

I am happy to be ‘retired!’ It’s what I’ve worked for and looked forward to all my life.

I am reminded more frequently these days that growing older is a privilege that is denied to many.

When we were in high school and college, it was cool to be a senior. During our careers, we relished having ‘Senior’ as the first word in our job title. It usually came with more authority, more responsibility, and hopefully more respect. Or at least more money.

Why is ‘senior’ now such an undesirable word when it prefaces ‘citizen?’ I don’t mind ’senior’ at all, especially when it is followed by ‘discount.’

It’s as if our tender little feelings will get hurt if we are referred to using old-sounding words like ‘senior,’ ‘retiree,’ or ‘elder.’ These words are accurate and shouldn’t be the least bit offensive. However, I must draw the line at ‘geezer,’ ‘codger,’ ‘gerry,’ ‘coot,’ ‘fossil,’ ‘troll,’ or ‘cotton-top.’

NEWS FLASH! We are not delicate little snowflakes. We have endured plenty of difficult challenges and unpleasant events during our lifetimes. To name just a few:

  • The assassinations of John F. Kennedy, Robert F. Kennedy, and Martin Luther King, Jr.
  • Vietnam
  • The Kent State shootings and college unrest
  • Watergate and the resignation of a president
  • The Arab oil embargo
  • Leisure suits
  • The Iran hostage crisis
  • The Iran-Contra affair
  • AIDS
  • The Challenger explosion
  • John and Lorena Bobbitt
  • 9/11
  • Endless wars in Iraq and Afghanistan
  • Anti-marriage equality constitutional amendments in many states
  • Stock market crashes
  • Real estate crashes
  • Recessions
  • High unemployment
  • Layoffs
  • The wardrobe malfunction at the Super Bowl
  • …and everything Billy Joel mentioned in We Didn’t Start the Fire

We have dealt with tough times, and we will deal with everything that is going on in our country and our world now.

Not that we’re unique or that our trials and tribulations were any worse than those of previous generations. They weren’t. In many ways, we’ve had it the best.

And maybe we have picked up some bits of wisdom along the way and have interesting stories to share.

But after all we have been through, I think we can handle being called ‘seniors’ or ‘retirees’ or simply ‘old.’ These words shouldn’t be considered offensive or ageist, and we shouldn’t interpret them that way or speak them as if they are. There are many worse forms of ageism that we have to deal with.

So don’t call me a ‘boomer’ and tell me I’m ‘61 years young.’ Ask me how much I love being retired. And bring on the senior discounts!

What do you think? What do you prefer to be called? Please feel welcome to comment below.


© 2018 Dave Hughes. All rights reserved.

Photo credits:
Happy people: Alex Proimos. Some rights reserved.
Champagne glasses: Nik MacMillan

2 Responses

  1. Drew Jensen says:

    Hear hear! I earned my gray hairs, and always try to convey caring and wisdom to all I encounter. I think all us seniors often are more aware of really what life is about. When I was younger, I may have been a little more fearful of getting older, which drove unflattering attitudes towards the older generation. However, now that I have arrived, I’m proud of my seniority. As I am approaching retirement, I’m much more aware that my financial resources are finite, and also appreciate the discounts!

    • Dave Hughes says:

      “I think all us seniors often are more aware of really what life is about.” <--- This is what I appreciate the most about being older. Thanks, Drew!

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