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Opening Arguments

No blog for old men

You know how some people start checking out the obits when they reach a certain age just to see how many of those listed they know? Well, I've reached an age where I pay more attention to articles like this one:

When exactly does someone become elderly?

A recent New York Times story calls a 69-year-old woman elderly. Philadelphia Metro considers 70 to be elderly. When NPR ran a story recently about a 71-year-old midwife, some readers objected to the word "elderly" in the original headline.

One commenter responded: "REALLY?!? 'ELDERLY MIDWIFE'?! She's 71 and delivering babies! There's nothing elderly about her, and these days, not even her age!"

Another wrote: "I was 70 in Feb and I certainly do not feel elderly ... Elderly is at least over 80 and as someone else suggested maybe 95."

Editors decided to change the headline. And eventually, NPR's ombudsman weighed in on the "elderly" issue.

In the same way other words have morphed in widespread acceptability — handicapped to disabled; Oriental to Asian; retarded to mentally challenged, and even those words are still in flux — elderly is becoming politically (and politely) incorrect. Certain terms apparently have term limits.

"Elderly" is one of those subjective words pretending to be objective and somewhere along the way morphs from an acceptable descriptive adjective into an insult. You're as old as the combination of how you feel and how others treat you. I once accompanied my mother to a seminar, and the moderator later described her as "very elderly." I think she was 62 or 63 at the time and would have been highly chagrined to hear herself described that way.

I've gone through the period where nobody paid particular attention to my age and I didn't think much about it, either. On either end of that great middle, when you're young and when you're old, you obssess about being something else. It always shocks us (at least it has me) to be labled anything, including "middle aged." We don't feel like part of a group with similar characteristices. We age one day at a time and don't feel much different today than we did yesterday. You have to slow down and really focus on it to see how really different you are from the high school kid lurking somewhere in your subconscious.

I heard someone recently who referred to a quip I heard a long time ago and laughed at. "Inside every old person is a young person asking, 'How the hell did that happen?' " Not laughing now.


Harl Delos
Wed, 03/20/2013 - 9:00am

When I was 35, I referred to myself as middle-aged, and my mother had a conniption fit.  I'm half-way between birth and three-score-and-ten, I protested.  When does middle-age begin?

She wasn't sure, but at age 67, she wasn't middle-aged yet.

I'm fractious, forgetful, and the DMV gave me a handicapped parking placard, so I'll cop to being elderly even though I'm not quite 67 yet.  I used to think I was invulnerable, and I would sometimes work 60 hours straight, and not as a rare event, either.  If I could go back in a time machine, I'd tell me about the importance of self-care, but I don't thibk it would help.  I never listened....

Leo Morris
Wed, 03/20/2013 - 9:25am

Yeah, I think it might have been Minnie Pearl who said, "If I'd known I was going to live this long, I'd have taken better care of myself."