Geezer Teaser: What should older adults call themselves?

Photo: House of Sims/Flickr

Help me out here. Is there a good word for older adults?

Seniors?

Older adults don’t call themselves seniors unless they are trying to get a cheap ticket to a movie. And I hesitate to call myself a senior because, when it comes to naming the stages of life, I don’t see any freshmen, sophomores or juniors. So it seems weird to have a stage all out there by itself called “senior”.

An online group of my friends known as The Sister Listers tackled the issue a while ago and we couldn’t come up with any name for older women besides crone, which we didn’t like because it makes us seem like witches cooking up a batch of lizard guts and mouse tails.

Look in Roget’s Thesaurus and you get hit with words that carry the old ageist stereotypes — withered, ill, doddering, feeble, withered, decreit, infirm and other negative words that I hope Mr. Roget didn’t really mean. (His thesaurus was published in 1852 when he was 73 and maybe seventy-somethings felt that way in the 19th century, unlike the 70-something who visited this morning to invite me to go kayaking. Different times, different realities. Thank god.)

There are other words, most of which don’t hack it: Golden-ager, senior citizen, elder, granny, gramps,  old-timer, codger, old bag, or how about Yeats’ “a tattered coat upon a stick”? Phooey.

Which is why I finally settled on this diary being called The Geezer Diary. To me, geezer was the least obnoxious word and it does make people laugh out loud when I tell them what I’m writing. But, if I could find something else, I might use it.

What should others call us?

Some media fight ageism by not using any of the above terms, including the bland “senior”. They report by giving the gender—man or woman–and then giving the age with no other comment. (If you’re interested in this issue, go to http://tiny.cc/ygfdo.)

Still, I wish there were something better and maybe we have to invent it. My friend M. suggested “Vintage Venus”, which brought to mind all kinds of pleasant associations—myself promoted to Venus level for one—but I could not imagine asking for a Vintage Venus discount at the movies.

Photo: Kevin Dooley

Anyhow, feel free to comment with your own suggestions below. I will read every one.

And who could refuse this Venus her discount?

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6 Responses to Geezer Teaser: What should older adults call themselves?

  1. Susan Eyre says:

    a good friend of ours had a second Bat Mitzvah when she turned 70 and spoke about the passages from childhood to adulthood and now, at 70, elderhood. does elders sound too much like a Quaker Meeting? or those people who preached “children should be seen and not heard”?

  2. Eunice Banks says:

    I like elderhood as it refers to a life style. I also like the way the French say Madam. They say it with deference and that is what I appreciate most from younger people (when I get it) is deference. May I hold the door open for you Madam. Oh yes. Thank you much. Mutual respect does make a difference at any age under any name.
    So glad you have started a blog. Now I can stop clipping and filing Madam Walsh’s columns.

    • John says:

      Since language is a reflection of the culture, I’m afraid your quest is a futile one. However, if you were to switch to Chinese, there would be no problem. In China, the word for “old” is “lao”. It usually connotes respect. I (a Chinese geezer) am commonly referred to as “lao xien sheng” (old mister – in fact “xien sheng” is literally” earlier born”) or “lao bo” (old uncle) , Teacher is “lao shih”, common citizen is “lao be xing” (old hundred surnames), In the latter case,” lao” takes on a casual/familiar tone – somewhat akin to our ol’: lao Wang (ol’ Wang – a familiar casual address) as opposed to xiao Wang (little (young) Wang). Even lao wai (ol’ outsider – foreigner) the lao in this case, while perhaps not respectful, is more akin to its use in “citizens”. The difference, of course, is that “old” is good and respected in Chinese culture … no doubt rooted in the teachings of Confucius.

  3. Judi Caselli says:

    Oh thanks for such a brain teaser. It’s been driving me nuts. Judy suggested that I send these names on to you so here goes. The valiant lingerers, Where-did-it-goers, The Grateful grands, Inadvertent examples, Unfertile Myrtles, Closet grey-haired kids, and probably the best one, Prevailers. Sure do hope that we meet someday.

  4. Pauletta Mann aka Nanz says:

    Dear Mel , I would like to post a comment or shall I say blog about being a “NANA” in the trying times to understand our off spring. The young beautiful people that we love so much but yet do not understand or possibly do not know how to help and guide them.
    After all that should have been their parents job. Where did we fail? Teaching our children to teach their children?

    I have just turned 60 and am going to college for my Masters just because it feels good for me. I have had no direction as to what my life should accomplish. I think I would like to be called the “Wise” ( the wise ones) . I always tell these young people that I encounter almost everyday to please listen. Been There , Done, That situation but it seems unfair to them to even try to understand because times have changed so much, I can hardly keep up. I’ll leave at that. Love your site, Nanz.

    PS A very lovely lady told me about you as I was working one night doing telephone surveys. So very kind and I thank her.

  5. Margie Mirken says:

    How about ‘doyen’ for the males and ‘doyenne’ for the females. It’s an archaic-sounding word we already have. Or must we make it doy-person, to conform to gender-neutrality? Sigh.
    Dean, dame, dona (if I weren’t a doyenne, I might know how to make this MacBook Fabuloso type a tilde over that n). Matriarch and patriarch. Sigh again. These are old words of honor and veneration we seldom use. Which came first, the chicken or the egg?

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