Taking Back the Word 'Elder'
Excerpt from Daily Cures, Wisdom for Healthy Aging by Connie Mason Michaelis
I’m on a campaign to take back the word Elder. The confusion between the word “Elder” and “elderly” is dramatic. Merriam-Webster defines the word elderly as “rather old, especially being past middle age; old-fashioned or relating to or characteristic of later life or elderly persons.” Synonyms are “aged, ancient, geriatric, long-lived, older, over-the-hill, senescent or unyoung.” Does that make you feel good? Would anyone aspire to be elderly? When we discuss the elderly population, our minds go to those that are feeble, weak, frail, and in need of support and help. The young, in contrast, are robust, capable, and in charge. There is a sense of being superior to the elderly.
In dramatic contrast, the dictionary’s definition of Elder is “one living in an earlier period; one who is older; one having authority by virtue of age and experience; one who is above another in rank, station or office.” The synonyms are “leader, head, chief, senior, patriarch.” Now we’re talking! Who wouldn‘t aspire to any of those titles? And I think Elder should be capitalized because it is a proper noun according to my reasoning. I use the words, Elder and Senior, with that same level of respect. We loved being a senior in high school or college. Being assigned a senior account specialist is a promotion. The senior member of a committee is an indication of experience, wisdom, and strength. How did we let the word Elder be denigrated to the word elderly? I agree that we must earn the privilege and humility of being named an Elder. Elders are those that project wisdom and strength that comes from living a long time. The title comes with the responsibility to stay above the fray, ignoring pettiness and offering an expanded view of life that we gain from years of experience. Excerpt from Daily Cures, Wisdom for Healthy Aging by Connie Mason Michaelis