Missing Elderly

The electronic freeway sign said “MISSING ELDERLY GOLD TOYOTA AVALON.” It probably included a license number, but that’s all I had time to read as I sped by.

Why would anybody steal an old car?

I know, I know. The sign meant “missing elderly person.” 

Why couldn’t it just say “old man” or “old lady?” In block letters, “old man” would use exactly the same number of characters and spaces as “elderly” (seven), and “old lady” would add only one more. If the sign used the gender-specific terms, at least we’d know whether we’re looking for Grandpa or Grandma.

Are we so caught up in political correctness that we can’t refer to an old person as old? Must we edit the inevitable? And isn’t this ageism? “Elderly” implies that there’s something wrong with being old, that age has to be repackaged in gentler terms. The way I see it, growing old is a direct result of living. That’s not so bad.

I don’t consider myself old, though surely some people do. After all, my generation was warned not to trust anybody over 30.

As a writer, I might use “elderly” as an alternative to “old,” to avoid repetition, and “senior” in describing a discount. But “elderly” as a noun? No way. Not only is it a euphemism, it’s an adjective.

The copy editor in me objects. So does the old lady.

This entry posted in Age, Copyediting, Philosophy, Writing. Bookmark the permalink. 

12 Responses to Missing Elderly

  1. lol… so funny and true carol 🙂 i hope you had a great time in italy! i’m jealous. xo

  2. You are so right! Why should we be be ashamed of being old? Besides, no matter what words we use, they still mean “old”.

  3. Carrie Burtt says:

    Your words ring beautifully raw and true Carol…if you are under 30 then you are still very young….i have never stressed over my age…i am not a spring chicken anymore…47…but we live in a society that does over analize and worry about political correctness….we just need to “chill out”…lol (by the way i love your blog)

  4. Jen says:

    I very much agree! It should be a privilege to have age and wisdom on our side…..and why must we mask with words? Soon, elderly will be on the list of “do not use”, as it will be the new word for “old”. Sigh. We are such a silly culture…..spending so much time and energy on the things that don’t matter at all. And then allowing the things, like family, eternity, relationships to lay in the corner, completely forgotten. Very well said, Carol. Thank you!

  5. I love what you have written here. It is the same with other words of course as well. I have MS and sometimes my speech slows down, this is called dysarthria, but another word for slowed down is retarded…but if I say refer to the “R” word instead of slow or dysarthric…I offend others…including my niece who is slow…but we say she is a special needs child (which is also true). Words can be so tricky and sticky….so many of us try to speak with compassionate inclusive language…but then odd things like the Missing Elderly Gold Toyota show up and honestly I would have been wondering about the missing car too!

    gentle steps

  6. Carol Nuckols says:

    I love linking with this community, Emily. It’s a constant source of inspiration. And I appreciate everybody’s good words on words. Laura, thank you for your insights into compassionate, inclusive language.

  7. GypsyCat says:

    In order to be grammatically consistent shouldn’t the signs read “old woman” and “old man”. Or else “old lady” and “old gentleman”. But we don’t really know if the old people are ladies or gentlemen, do we? (Just playing the devil’s advocate here.)

  8. Seré says:

    Oh, I can so relate to this. I’ve done a lot of writing for the senior/healthcare market, and some people even object to “elder.” If that freeway sign had really been about an old car, it might have said “classic.” Maybe that’s a word we can all agree on. 🙂

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