I had a woman complain to me that she hates it when people used the word ‘old’ in reference to people who are, in fact, old. She told me that those people (whippersnappers?) need to be ‘educated’ on the proper term, which, she insisted, is the word ‘senior’. She asked me to write a column to inform the clueless about this pressing matter, but I’d say she barked up the wrong tree on this one, because as far as I’m concerned, of all the words to describe old, ‘senior’ has got to be the worst.
Question: Am I being a hypocrite here? If I am offended by the term ‘senior’, how is it any different than being offended by the term ‘old’?
Answer: Bugger off, you.
When you’re ‘old’, you’re pretty much screwed in terms of certain perks. Your gravity-defying body bits have given up defying much of anything. Occupy Wrinkle has seized control of your previously wrinkle-free skin. Your endless energy has, it turns out, a very distinct end, which comes approximately the minute you start an activity. Your razor-sharp brain is developing enough bad code that it could be mistaken for Windows Vista. Your years left on Earth have shrunk like a wool sweater set on hot wash. You’re probably noisy when you walk. “What the hell was that noise, some kid setting off firecrackers?” “No, just my knees.” Your brain is slowly dissolving into a kind of gooey gray paste, and thoughts that used to stick just slide right off now, and disappear. Sometimes forever, but usually only until you are unable to do anything about the recovered thought. “Turn off the oven” slips quietly out of your brain until you’ve landed for your holiday in England, at which point you remember the oven quite clearly. You are distracted by the sudden realization, and in your dismay you completely forget, as you cross the road, the English habit of driving on the wrong side, and . . . *splat*. My point is, you can call yourself ‘senior’ all you want, but the above paragraph will still apply whether you’re ‘old’ or ‘senior’ so why not run with it, laugh at it, and go with a word that accurately describes the experience of being old and decrepit, a word that has gritty realism, like ‘oldie’, or ‘geezer’, or ‘mad old bag’?
Being old is not nearly as grim as I am making out, of course. There are new perks to replace the (many) lost ones. For example, instead of looking incredibly buff and sexy, you can, instead, get away with wearing baggy lime green and pink checked polyester golf pants. How cool is that? Could you do that when you in your 40s? No, you could not. And instead of dropping that extra ten pounds as you might have felt pressured to do in youth, you can now just say to hell with it, and retain the pounds for insulation on cold mornings. Instead of getting looks wherever you go, you can now enjoy the perks of being basically invisible to the rest of the world. This means you can pack that big-screen television out of the store without paying. You’re invisible. And if you do get caught, you’re old and confused.
Some old people, notably some of the ones who call themselves ‘seniors’, believe they deserve special treatment because they’ve lived a long time, even though anybody can pull that off, given enough time. Other old people, notably ones who call themselves ‘oldies’, get that really, you’re just here for awhile then *poof* you’re gone. And if, over the years, you’ve raised a little hell now and then, and hopefully also done a bit of good, you’re doing alright. Doesn’t mean you’re up for a medal, though.