MOST older people would rather hurl you off a cliff than allow you to call them ‘elderly’. Not so long ago, this was the standard shorthand term for older people and not at all controversial.
But, we have stopped respecting our elders and age is actually seen as so much more than a number. So the word ‘elderly’, along with variants on the theme, have acquired very disagreeable connotations.
‘Elderly’ is particularly disliked because older people know it is patronising. Many in the UK dislike the US-catch all ‘seniors’ partly because it is American, but also because it will always be linked to a brand of cigarettes with a bearded sailor on the pack. Aside from sporting competitions, the use of ‘veterans’ is not welcomed because of the military implications.
'Elder’, meanwhile, will never win approval because it is emblazoned on the name badges of impossibly young members of the Church of Latter Day Saints. So we are left with ‘older people’ – hence the ‘inoffensive’ name of this website.
Behind all this, is the fact that society despises age, so that words associated with oldness, especially ‘elderly’, suggest weakness and imbecility. They conjure up visions of walking frames, care homes and incontinence products. People should not have to put up with labels which denigrate them, but then again... If we have a problem with age, we need to do something about that problem, not just remove the ‘offensive’ language and carry on being offensive about and to older people.
Currently, there is much talk about renaming ‘anti-ageing’ products, to remove ageist language. No one should feel bad because of their age, the US ‘beauty’ industry insists. It has no plans to stop making these products, they are just not going to be called ‘anti-ageing’ anymore. It’s hilarious. Such crocodile tears from an industry which has grown rich on miracle cures for the ‘six signs of ageing’. Is it six? Who knows? Who cares?
The truth is, the language is representative of a prevalent anti-age attitude in our society - which has even won support among many older people, who don't want to be seen as old.
Using language to denigrate people and put them in a box is obviously wrong. Older people are people. They are us. But there should be nothing wrong with being older either, quite the reverse, and it is this attitude that needs to change.
It will not be changed simply by changing some language, saying one thing and doing another. Older people are blamed for everything from Trump to Brexit from the housing shortage to Budget deficit. That’s perfectly all right apparently...as long as you don’t call them 'elderly'. (Ironic)