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You Don't Say
John E. McIntyre writes about language, usage, journalism & arbitrarily chosen subjects.
NewsYou Don't Say

Try not to provoke the old people

An article in The Sun last week characterized a sixty-eight-year-old woman trapped in a burning boat in the harbor as "elderly."

We should have known better than that. The Associated Press Stylebook urges the same kind of caution about elderly that it observes for racial and ethnic terms: "Use this word carefully and sparingly. Do not refer to a person as elderly unless it is clearly relevant to the story."

Generic expressions such as concern for the elderly are OK, since presumably the older reader can always assume that you mean someone else. 

More from the AP Stylebook: "If the intent is to show than an individual's faculties have deteriorated, cite a graphic example and give attribution for it. Use age when available and appropriate."

The editor on deck the morning the boat fire story appeared got at least one complaint from a reader, and I was chided in a message from a former colleague. 

While I see the wisdom of avoiding unnecessary offense to readers and endorse the AP guidelines, I find myself muttering under my breath. 

If you are old enough to collect full Social Security benefits and Medicare, you are no longer young. For that matter, you are no longer middle-aged. And spare me that codswallop about sixty being the new forty. I have been forty and I have been sixty, and I can tell the one from the other. Cootdom is the estate for which I have been preparing my entire adult life, and I refuse to be cheated out of it. 

But still, it wouldn't do to provoke the AARP (which starts making a play for you the minute you turn fifty, by the way). 

All right, people, steer clear of using elderly. You know how cranky old people get. 


 

Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun
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