Oscar Wilde: “Wisdom comes with winters.”
What also comes: social security, glaucoma and irritating monikers for the oldest among us.
Some terms are prima facie objectionable. “Ancient.” “Fogey.” “Blue hair.”
Others seem fussy or vague. “Pensioner.” “Patriarch.” “Doyenne.”
Journalists and policymakers — and regular folks — need a way to refer to those entering, ahem, their sunset years.
We know we tread on dangerous ground.
The Washington Post style manual: “When age is relevant to a story it may be discussed, but beware of adjectives such as elderly, middle-aged, etc. Young reporters especially tend to use these words about people who would not appreciate them.”
But what do you rusty, moth-eaten, antediluvian geezers want to be called?
Ina Jaffe, who covers golden-agers for NPR, filed a story on Tuesday that attempted to get to the bottom of this sensitive matter.
Her conclusion, after NPR conducted a poll of 2,700 presumably aged listeners: “I can sum up the overall response by saying that they disliked pretty much everything.”
Most — 43 percent — liked “older adult.” Simple, straightforward and by far the most popular, according to NPR.
Almost a third liked “elder.” And almost a third liked “senior” — but only 12 percent liked “senior citizen.”
Then there were the loathed terms. Jaffe:
There were some terms you might expect to get a negative response like “geezer,” “old-timer,” the aforementioned “elderly.” But even expressions often used in a positive context like “positive aging” or “successful aging” — a majority of gave them thumbs down. A couple of other common terms — “golden years” and “geriatric” — the vast majority disapproved.
The problem Jaffe identified on her beat: Many of the words we use for older adults — vague terms such as “retirees” — no longer reflect reality. Many don’t retire at 65. If Hillary Clinton becomes president in 2016, she’ll be 69 when she’s inaugurated. And life expectancy in the United States is 78.7 years.
In other words, old folks ain’t what they used to be.
For those Methuselahs who don’t like “elder,” here are some other options — good and bad — culled from the Internet. Browse away — while you still can.
septugenarian, octogenarian, nonagenarian, centenarian
codger, old codger