Language of Aging
Jane Juska, author of A Round-Heeled Woman and Unaccompanied Women
Jesse Kornbluth, Headbutler.com
Abigail Trafford, Washington Post columnist and author of My Time
The need to communicate is fundamental to human existence, and language is a powerful force in our lives. Yet the way language shapes ideas and attitudes can be almost imperceptible. "Language is the blood of the soul into which thoughts run and out of which they grow." So said Oliver Wendell Holmes.
The Life (Part 2) roundtable uses their formidable powers of communication to dissect the language of aging. The English language contains messages about how we really feel about aging. Take the world "old": it's a perfectly suitable adjective used to describe an advancement of years. Yet it comes loaded with stereotypes, like "wise," and negative connotations, like "frail."
Abigail Trafford points out that there is no "us" and "them" in referring to the elderly: "We are them!" That's what Dr. Robert Butler, the first director of the National Institute on Aging, suggested when he coined the word "ageism" in 1968. "Ageism allows the younger generations to see older people as different than themselves; thus they subtly cease to identify with their elders as human beings," he noted.
Trafford also feels there's a "quiet" revolution afoot as this generation changes the dynamics of getting older. Words like "retire" are being redefined in the face of new trends. Jesse Kornbluth encourages taking up arms of a sort: "The way you get over this is by fighting it," he says.