Linguistic hygiene regarding terms for the aged

Harold Schiffman hfsclpp at
Wed Feb 11 15:19:53 UTC 2009

Goodbye, Spry Codgers. So Long, Feisty Crones
By Jane Gross

Comparable to racism and sexism, "ageism" refers to stereotyping and
prejudice directed at individuals and groups because of their age. The
term is believed to have been coined in 1969 by gerontologist Dr.
Robert N. Butler, the founder of the International Longevity Center in
New York City, which as recently as two years ago published a
comprehensive report on the problem. Now the center, along with Aging
Services of California, has put together a stylebook to guide media
professionals through the minefield of politically correct and
politically incorrect ways of identifying and portraying the elderly.

Lesson one. "Elderly" is a word the two organizations would prefer we
eliminate. Oops. We have used it here often. But now we know better.
In the glossary of the new stylebook, "Media Takes: On Aging,'' the
authors state their case against "elderly" as follows. Use this word
carefully and sparingly. The term is appropriate only in generic
phrases that do not refer to specific individuals, such as concern for
the elderly, a home for the elderly, etc. In other words, describing a
person as elderly is bad form, although the generalized category
"elderly" might not be offensive. (Suggested substitutions include
"older adult" or simply "man'' or "woman" with the age inserted, if

Also to be avoided are "senior citizen" (we don't refer to people
under age 50 as "junior citizens," the guide notes) and "golden years"
(euphemisms are probably not the best way to go, we learn). "Feisty,"
"spry," "feeble," "eccentric," "senile" and "grandmotherly" are also
unwelcome terms, patronizing and demeaning, as is calling someone "80
years young." The guide is ambivalent on use of the word "home" as a
replacement for "skilled nursing facility." On the one hand, it can be
both anachronistic and condescending to harken back to "old folks'
homes," which is one of the reasons Aging Services of California
changed its name from the California Association of Homes and Services
for the Aging. But elsewhere the guide notes (see paragraph four
above) that "these facilities are indeed people's homes," often
permanently. Thus, the people who live there should be called
"residents" rather than "patients."

The guide's other "obviously ageist words and phrases to avoid" seem
far less ambiguous. Among them are "biddy," "codger," "coot," "crone,"
"fogy," "fossil," "geezer," "hag," "old fart," "old goat," "prune,"
"senile old fool" and "vegetable." None of these — whew! — have
appeared in The New Old Age. (Until now.)

N.b.: Listing on the lgpolicy-list is merely intended as a service to
its members
and implies neither approval, confirmation nor agreement by the owner
or sponsor of
the list as to the veracity of a message's contents. Members who
disagree with a
message are encouraged to post a rebuttal. (H. Schiffman, Moderator)

More information about the Lgpolicy-list mailing list