Perhaps you’ve heard the expression “Everybody wants to go to heaven, but nobody wants to die.” The corollary to that is, “Everybody wants to live a long life, but nobody wants to get old.” So we don’t get old. We “get up in years,” we “put on some mileage,” we get not old but older, as in, I’m not old. “Old” is anybody older than I am. Nobody is actually old. Old means ancient. The pyramids are old. The Parthenon is old. Dirt is old.
I understand this need to sugarcoat the inexorable onset of decrepitude. After decrepitude comes decomposition, and who wants to think about that? There is, however, one genteelism which I could do without, and that is the word “silver.” The so-called baby boom generation, now in their 70s, is the “Silver Tsunami,” buying and spending in the “Silver Economy.” Centrum Silver Multivitamins offer “age-adjusted” micronutrients to—what?—help adjust your age? If you’ve managed to hold onto your looks, you’re a Silver Fox, and if you spend time on the internet, you are—oh, the indignity—a Silver Surfer.
I find this irritating because it is patronizing. Silver refers to hair, of course, which turns gray as we age. Nobody has silver hair unless they shampoo with mercury. Yet it sounds so much more distinguished than gray, which is the color of battleships, leaden skies, and the Department of Motor Vehicles.
I see several problems. What about people with no hair? Men are just as likely to go bald as to go gray, and then what? You don’t qualify for the Silver Sunset Special at the diner and have to sit home eating leftover tuna casserole?
What if you have white hair? White is not silver. Silver is the filling your dentist is putting in your teeth. White is your face when he didn’t give quite enough Novocaine.
Finally, everybody refers to the autumn of life as the “golden years.” You can’t have people walking around in their golden years with silver hair. Not only do they clash, but silver is inferior to gold, and if a person has made it through the soul-searing irritations, vexations, and exasperations of this world
with their sanity intact, they deserve a medal, not an inferiority complex.
I understand this need to sugarcoat the inexorable onset of decrepitude.
Given all this, you can imagine how I reacted to an email from my health club informing me that, being over 65, I qualified for their Silver Sneakers Program: All the benefits of a regular membership for just 25 a year! Isn’t that wonderful?! This was my reply:
Thanks for the offer but I think your Silver Sneakers Program is about as wonderful as a case of shingles. Why are “all the benefits of a regular membership” suddenly new? I’ve always had a regular membership. What do I have now—an Irregular Membership for Old Guys Who Sit on Their Porch Yelling GET OFF MY LAWN? And why only 25 a year? Because I’m supposed to be on a “fixed income”? How about if I come over and fix your income? And why sneakers? Because old people don’t know about running shoes and cross-trainers? They show up in orthopedic Hush Puppies with Velcro straps and ask to use the rotary dial telephone? I don’t even wear sneakers. I’m a swimmer. I would only need sneakers if I ran on the bottom of the pool. Do you think that’s what I do? And last but not least—there is nothing silver about me. My house is green, my car is blue, my shoes are brown, my dog is black, my golf shoes are tan, and my hair is gray. That’s right—gray! Deal with it.
Okay, so I didn’t actually send this. I know they’re only trying to be nice. But there has to be a better way to refer to “people of a certain age.” Some use “mature,” but that evokes unsavory connotations. I, for one, would prefer not to be included in “For Mature Audiences Only.” “Elder” sounds like you should be wearing robes and a wizard’s hat. The American Geriatric Society-approved “older adults” is a nice try but … well, nice try. I’ve heard the British call the elderly “wrinklies” and they don’t mind. It conveys a certain affection. That’s my choice. If your joints pop, your hearing’s shot, your vision’s blurry, and your skin looks like crumpled tissue paper, you might as well tell it like it is.
John Cadley is a former advertising copywriter, freelance writer, and musician living in Fayetteville, New York. Learn more at www.cadleys.com.