A few weeks ago we mentioned an article printed in The Economist that (echoing a previous Pulse post) also noted those 50-plus are the driving force of entrepreneurialism. It was titled “Enterprising Oldies.” Great piece. Bad headline. In fact, we took issue with it or rather decided to make an issue of it – this week’s issue.
People over the age of 50 are called names. The English (including the editors at The Economist), for example, have pat phrases or pet names for their more mature citizens. ‘Oldies’ is one. ‘Wrinklies’ is another. Not really an endearment. And given the English invented the concept of the English language, you’d think they could come up with something better.
Canadians are no wiser. Earlier this month, The Globe and Mail used the term ‘geezer set.’ Now there’s a headline that will have the newspaper’s largest demographic snapping up copies.
Wrist-slapping aside, the fact is there aren’t a lot of nice names for being a certain age. (Even ‘a certain age’ seems suspect. For many charting this new territory, the term ‘uncertain age’ may actually be more applicable.) And, curiously enough, as soon as we cross the half-century mark, we’re all suddenly lumped into the same category or tagged with the same delightful labels.
Go ahead. Check the dictionary. Look up the word older or oldie or even geezer and you’ll find a whole list of definitions and terms that, as the dictionaries note, describe people at middle age or beyond: Senior. Geriatric. Old fart. Old bat. Old man. Old girl. Oldster. Old timer. Elderly. Over the hill. Increasing years. Declining years. Aging. Aged. And – our particular favourite – unyoung.
Bad words, the lot.
And, don’t even bother looking up the synonyms – they’re worse (you’ll see ugly things like senile, grizzled, decrepit, dotage and even mouldy).
Not that anyone older than 50 is delicate and needs to be spoken to as if they’re vulnerable – which would be worse. Then we’d be talking terms like ‘old dearie,’ which is not so much a put-down as it is patronizing.
We need another name to describe this ‘new age.’
Some have tried it. In fact, two people – one in the U.S., the other in Canada – claim to be the rightful owner or inventor of the term ‘Zoomer.’ (In this case, the French actually got there first – it means to zoom in.) For one of these two men, the word means ’Boomers with zip.’ We don’t know about you, but we’re not all that sure we want to be described as ‘zippy’ either.
Apparently there are a lot of things many of us don’t want to be called. Advertising agencies, for example, are finding that Boomers don’t like the term ‘senior.’ Some are becoming tired of the ‘Boomer’ title, too. Even AARP, the U.S. organization that represents the country’s 50-plus population, has stopped calling itself its original name – or the name the letters stand for. Similar to ‘the artist formerly known as Prince,’ they’ve dropped the ‘American Association of Retired Persons’ from their vernacular.
There is, of course, the option of claiming some of these words as our own – as other cultural groups have done to nullify or negate derogatory terms. But we’re not convinced the idea of greeting another 50-plus with “hey, old goat,” will go over all that well. However, it is marginally better than coming up with some politically-correct term like ‘experienced persons on the planet’ or ‘persons older on the planet’ (which, no doubt, would be shortened to POOP, as in ‘old poop’, so nix that one too).
It’s obvious we need better descriptors. There’s ‘elder.’ Not a bad word. And like the tree it describes something green and growing. It’s a possibility.
The point is, if we don’t like the names we’re being called, we need to come up with something different. And we need to come up with it ourselves. (What we don’t need is some advertising wunderkind thinking, ‘well, they used to be the Pepsi generation, maybe we could land a new client with the Pepsodent generation.’) We need something empowering. Something clever. Something we can all agree on. And if you think of something, send it in. Seriously. We’ll list the options and have a vote.
Last words: If anyone could come up with a better name for the older- than-50 set, without a doubt, it would have been George Carlin. Aside from being a comic genius, the man was a master of the English language. We miss him. Here, in his HBO special Life is Worth Losing, he describes himself perfectly.
Below, for those who don’t mind language (and ‘Mr. Seven Words’ was a master of that, too), we’ve included a bonus link to a clip from Carlin’s last concert, It’s Bad for Ya’, in which he explains the difference between ‘old fart’, ‘old man’ and his particular favourite term, which we’ll let him explain.
Pulse postscript: Look who’s speaking our language. In a blog posted last weekend, thought leader/author Seth Godin also talks about how companies and marketers are missing the boat (or is that the gravy train?) by ignoring Boomers. The word is spreading.
Next week’s Pulse: Will Boomers save entertainment?
In April, we’re launching our first 12-week course! If you haven’t already ordered your copy of RIPE: Rich, Rewarding Work After 50, there’s still time. We’d love you to be part of this virtual Ripe Circle. (And if you haven’t pulled together your own Ripe Circle – a support team cum cheerleading squad – take a look at Pulse No. 2, February 17, 2012, for details.)
“Ripe” is a state of mind, to be sure. But the great paradox of the ripening process is that you can’t think your way into this new state. The journey requires us to go deeper than our conscious minds.
This week, as your imagination plays with the idea of re-naming this stage of life (and maybe even an entire generation), turn some of your attention toward your physical self.
How are you experiencing the passing years in your body? Do you find the visible signs of aging interesting or frustrating? Is your body more beautiful than ever or absolutely horrifying?
Ever so gently, ask yourself if your body is telling you something (other than, ‘hey, buddy, I’m not a perpetual-motion machine’). Might it be taking you someplace new? Somewhere different, unexpected, and wonderful?
This week, declare a moratorium on the whole notion of anti-aging. And let your body talk.
Keep your finger on the pulse. There’s a sign-up option in the right-hand column of this page. (Or visit juliamoulden.com and send us an email.)
Julia Moulden and Trisse Loxley have been writing and editing for the media and corporate sectors for a combined 50 years. Today, they’re reconnecting with their generation and helping their clients engage with Boomers, too.