Posted by: Jack Henry | August 4, 2022

Editor’s Corner: Older

Good morning, folks!

We have touched a little on “ageist” language (OK, Boomer), but there is a lot more out there. In one of my emails to y’all, I used the word “grandma” in a way that offended some (including my own mom), so I wanted to find out more about ageist terms and avoid any more faux pas in the future.

Before I get started, though, I want to review what ageism is. It is bias or discrimination against a person because they belong to a particular generation or age group. It is not simply against older adults; it applies to intolerance for anyone based on their age. Today, I’m concentrating on ageism toward older people and how we can “use our words” to be more kind.

According to an article I read (How to Challenge Ageist Language), older people’s “functional health can worsen over time as a result of insults and negative images. In contrast, those with positive perceptions of aging live longer.” That means that with a little effort, we can help more seasoned individuals “live long and prosper.”

Let’s have a look at some of the good, the bad, and the ugly. (The following information is from an AARP article, “Who You Calling ‘Young Lady?’” I cut some things out, but you can see the full article using that link.)


“Older” — interesting how that little “er” qualifier makes the adjective “old” sound inoffensive. After all, everyone is older than someone.

“Experienced" — They may not know HTML or Snapchat, but an older person is unquestionably more experienced at staying alive on this increasingly insane planet. Just think: People older than you knew how to get across town without a GPS. That’s how experienced they are.

“Wise” — Certainly, this word doesn’t apply to everyone. But for the right individual, this is a classy way to hint at age while also honoring intellect. A respectful, slight bow of the head is a nice added touch.

“Seasoned” — This adjective hints that one has not only lived through many summers and winters, but also has been well rubbed with the spice of life on their journey. It indicates a human with a complex flavor profile.

“Sage” or “wizard” — If you have lived past 45, are a halfway decent person and not cruel or mean, then yes, you are magical.

“Mature” — This implies advanced emotional development and is an acceptable term as long as you don’t pronounce it with a hard T, as in “Ma-TOUR.” Then, it just sounds like Madonna trying to do Shakespeare. Please don’t make us think about that!

“Perennial” — Somehow, describing people as plants feels respectable. Evokes images of thick leaves and fleshy blossoms. Like many older people, perennials possess the two most-coveted qualities in plant or animal — they are gorgeous and hard to kill.

“Ageless” — The Isabella Rossellini of appellations. The ageless person perpetually exists in a liminal state where time is irrelevant. Please call us this.

Not Cool

“Young” (used playfully) — An infantilizing attempt at jocularity by someone actually young. Example: A waiter greets a table of septuagenarians with “How are you YOUNG ladies doing today?” Not good. You may be too young to know this, but there is nothing wrong with not being young. Now refill our decaf coffees!

“Of a certain age”Oooh, mysterious! Spooky! A number so scary that it can’t be said out loud, lest it conjure evil spirits.

“Elderly” — Let’s reserve this word for the over-95 set, please.

“Adorable” — Puppies are adorable. We’re adults. The fact that we are interesting or funny does not render us infantile. Save this word for baby goats. You can also feed them “sweetie,” “honey” and “dear.”

“Over the hill” — Kid, no one knows what “the hill” is or what side of it any of us is on. Kindly reserve this term to estimate your location when we are a half mile ahead of you on a hike or in an intellectual conversation.

Just Plain Mean

“Grandma” or “Grandpa” — Don’t use such nicknames for people whose reproductive history you do not know. Also, lots more grandmothers don’t want to be called “Grandma” anymore. Trending now: Glam-ma, Mimi, even Nana. (It should go without saying that “Granny” is worst of all.)

“Geriatric” — Anything that references hospitals or medical facilities should be avoided. People aren’t decaying in front of you.

“Old Coot” — What is a coot? Is it an insect? A toothy rodent? A weird skin growth? Do you even know what you’re calling us? Fun fact: A coot is a tough, adaptable water bird. They can fly and swim. Can you?

I hope this has opened your eyes a little to alternatives to “senior citizens” and “old people” and maybe given you a laugh in the process.

If you younger folks are feeling left out, email me and let me know what terms make you feel uncomfortable, unappreciated, or insulted because of your age!

Kara Church | Technical Editor, Advisory | Technical Publications

Pronouns: she/her | (619) 542-6773 |

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