Society, aided and abetted by the federal government, decided at some unspecified time that it wasn’t nice to say somebody was old. 

Sad Guy

Time marches on even as we do our best to deny we’re old.

I wrote the preceding sentence to start a newspaper column some fifteen years ago.Times have certainly changed since then, including me aging from 62 to almost 77, but, so far, I’m doing just fine. I’ll confess I spend more time wracking my aging brain when speaking and writing to recover shards and fragments of what was once a fertile vocabulary. As the years string behind you in your rearview mirror like traffic in the slow lane of the turnpike, you find yourself becoming increasingly verbose and loquacious, using words like loquacious, for instance.

Disrespect for old age come peaked with disdain for “elderly,” a word I regularly use to describe myself and other old people. I don’t even mind being called a fogey, but I draw the line at old fogey. That’s redundant, because a fogey, by definition, means you are old, perhaps antique and clearly a fuddy-duddy. But enough about me. We’ve got two fogeys running for president and, depending on your politics, their age is either an asset or a liability. Well, mostly a liability. Both are older than I am and are either stumblin’ and bumblin’ or ranting nonsensically about sharks versus electric boats and his favorite serial killer, “the late great Hannibal Lechter.” I’ll assuredly comment on that issue in a future blog, but I think we can say that respect for old age had taken a broadside hit lately after years of pussyfooting around what we should call people who are old or well on their way toward that status.

Then they decided to cover all us fogeys with the words “aging” and “aged”. They didn’t last long as synonyms for being old, because everyone is aging or aged. Cheese is best when aged, but it is aging as soon as the milk starts curdling. That is true with people. They used to have old-age homes, after years of being designated for “old folks”, but they probably changed that because aging simply means everyone inside is alive. If you are no longer aging, be you 21 or 88, you are dead as the proverbial doornail left to rust at death’s door.

Then they came up with elderly, which seemed okay to me, and, according to my dictionary, it simply means “past middle age and approaching the rest of life,” with “rather old” added as a secondary definition. Are you old or not? Can you be “rather racist” or “rather crazy,” which is apparently is saner than “crazier than a bedbug.” As far as I knew, everyone was quite comfortable with elderly when it suddenly became taboo.

One magical day, the older segment of our population—the group beyond middle age, wherever that ends—became known as senior citizens. Senior citizens? It was another attempt to define a growing part of our population without offending anyone. What do you call a person 65 and older who hasn’t yet received his U.S. citizenship—a senior alien? From there it was shortened to seniors, apparently to cover old immigrants who have abstained from citizenship.

Euphemisms have been with us for a long time, but each succeeding generation seemed to become more reliant on them. In the newspaper business, euphemisms are common, and I certainly don’t find them objectionable all the time, even preferrable at times. I believe the literal meaning of euphemism is “good words.” We could probably use more good words in these negativity-charged times, as long as they don’t distort reality.

“Simply Let Everyone Know I Died”

Death probably has more euphemisms than any other word. Just read obituaries and you’ll see few people die any more. They surrendered to God’s will, succumbed, expired, became bereft of life, achieved eternal rest, went the way of all flesh, made the ultimate sacrifice and departed this earthly realm. I remember receiving an angry letter when I was much younger and editor of a daily newspaper. The writerwas a man well into his seventies who grumbled (if writing can grumble) that he was becoming somewhat irked by all this succumbing.

“Did these people die or didn’t they?” he asked. I tend to agree. Expire? For starters, warrantees and subscriptions expire, because they may also be renewed. Such is not often the case with life. There should be expiration dates on all of us at birth, and then we wouldn’t have to guess. That could become quite stressful, I suppose. “Let’s see, “Not good after July 2024.” That’s this month!”

I’ve had to write too many obituaries for friends and family, especially in recent months, and I always say they died before proceeding. I understand an obituary is a very personal and intimate thing for loved ones and friends—the so-called survivors—but I don’t need to be told someone has passed through the Pearly Gates in the obituary. I feel that if the heavenly destination is indeed the case, those who know him or her will not have to be told that. As for those whose lives have not been all that exemplary, such euphemistic phrasing will only serve to mock their memory.

Then again, I would not want my obituary to say I bit the dust, kicked the bucket or gave up the ghost, which are also euphemisms, because they lack tact and trivialize then end of left. The traditional obituary terminology is dead, deceased or passed away, which will be fine with me in the announcement of my departure from this mortal coil upon the cessation of my beating heart. On the other hand, I wouldn’t be offended if someone simply let everyone know I died. It’s not such a bad word—short if not so sweet—and everyone knows what it means.

Being called old shouldn’t be a bad thing either. You have earned that distinction. Being old means you are brimming with life experiences, that you may have some lessons learned to share with others. If you are old and still haven’t learned anything, that makes you stupid. As for being called dead, that’s just the way it is and something that ultimately happens to all of us.