Posted by: Jack Henry | August 25, 2020

Editor’s Corner: Senate and Senile

Oh boy. In this whirlwind of a year, I’m not sure we’re ready for election season. While perusing Words of a Feather, by Murray Suid, I found this pair of words, though, that I think will inform you and give you a chuckle, no matter whose side you are on. The title reminds me of a Jane Austen novel, “Senate and Senility.”

You might think that the framers of the Constitution were careless in calling the upper chamber of Congress the senate, a term related to senile. Both words derive from the Latin senex, “old man.”

But a bit of word sleuthing shows us that the founders were blameless, at least in this connection. In the seventeenth century, senile simply referred to somone old or senior. Back then, elder statesmen were held to be sources of wisdom. It wasn’t until the mid-nineteenth century that senile acquired the meaning of “weak or infirm from age.”

And what constitutes “old” in connection with serving in the U.S. Senate? The minimum age according to the Constitution is thirty years, five years more than the minimum age for serving in the House of Representatives.

There have been, however, several exceptions. The youngest person ever to serve in the Senate was John Eaten, who in 1818 was sworn in at the age of twenty-eight. Apparently, Eaton himself was not aware of his true age until much later in his life.

Even though these words are from Latin, they still fit pretty well with the crowd in the U.S. Senate today. We currently have two active senators that are 86 years old; and Strom Thurmond served almost 50 years…until he died at 91.

Kara Church

Pronouns: she/her/hers

Technical Editor, Advisory

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