A classic G. George Ostrom column from 2001...
After I called the Montana Associated Press Saturday morning with a big complaint, Iris remarked, “You’re not aging very gracefully, dear.” Told her I saw nothing wrong with reprimanding reporters whose story begins, “Elderly woman killed in car wreck,” then reveals the unfortunate victim was a mere slip of a girl, 65 years old. Informed the AP lady editor their organization needlessly upset thousands of nice people over age 65, BUT who are NOT elderly. She admitted the AP has no “official threshold age,” beyond which they consider a person elderly and I said, “Well, the kid who did your story needs guidelines.” When I mentioned to the AP lady that the original report from the Great Falls Tribune DID NOT call the victim elderly, she replied, “Yes, I know the man who wrote the story and he is in his fifties.”
“There,” I thought, “Goes to show…AP needs a few mature young people like him on their staff there in Helena. Probably to get me off her case and off her phone, she promised the story would be corrected on the next broadcast edition. After hanging up and explaining to Iris how I felt about the careless use of the word ‘elderly,’ I got the latest copy of Webster’s Dictionary of American English: “eld-erly (adj.) 1. somewhat old; past middle age; approaching old age. 2. quite old, already in old age; aged – (noun -- elderly people as a group.”
Studied that a minute and got upset again because a majority of us long-term adults do not fit those meanings. Recalled a recent story of a lady 63 having a baby, and Tony Randall becoming a father in his 70s.
The introduction of this kind of evidence does not mean people must keep reproducing to prove they are not elderly. In fact, I was forced to make this point very, very clear to Iris, who is barely over 60, but who expressed strong feelings about how “absolutely ridiculous” to have babies 40 years apart.
A more valid point is that I and many of my friends who are beyond 65 still go to work every day and can perform extremely complex mental tasks such as translating government reports into English. Remembered friend Ambrose Measure riding a bike to his law office until he was 90. Wondered how Ambrose would feel about someone only 65 being called “elderly.” So, Webster’s says elderly is “Beyond middle age.” That is certainly a vague, wishywashy phrase. According to them, “middle age” means, “That time of life between youth and old age, now usually between about 40 and about 65.” Notice those additional waffling words, ‘Usually’ and ‘about.’ My latest dictionary of synonyms was cool. Under “AGED” it stated, “OLD stressed the years of one’s life, but in itself carries no connotations of marked decline. ELDERLY may imply no more than that the prime of life has been passed.” Things were looking up.
All this research boils down to defining “the prime of life.” That is the key phrase. In using the world elderly, the AP had implied, for people over 65, the “prime of life has been passed.” If that assumption is not true, then they must be corrected, and Iris was wrong about my not aging gracefully.
In the sometimes troubled, most mostly good 72 years I’ve been given, there were a few todays I would have traded for yesterdays, but no yesterdays I wouldn’t trade for tomorrow.
The prime of life means you still look forward with hope, wonder, and curiosity to the next new day. I can do that, even after learning how Grandma Iris feels… about having more children.