View Libby Znaimer

ZOOMER Magazine - - CONTENTS - BY LIBBY ZNAIMER Libby Znaimer ( is VP of news on AM740 and Clas­si­cal 96.3 FM (ZoomerMe­dia prop­er­ties).

IT IN­FU­RI­ATES ME ev­ery time it hap­pens. I’ll be out shop­ping, and a sales­per­son, 20 or 30 years my ju­nior, will start calling me “Dear” or “Honey.” I tell my­self it’s be­cause they are un­e­d­u­cated, and it’s sex­ist – they would never talk that way to a man. But the slight is more likely about my age. At least no one is calling me “Young lady” – not yet.

These days, it’s un­think­able to use some words that were com­mon­place when we were grow­ing up to de­scribe ethnic and racial mi­nori­ties or peo­ple with dis­abil­i­ties. It’s been years since I heard men re­fer­ring to women as “chicks” or “birds.” But age seems to be the last fron­tier for so­cially ac­cept­able in­sults. Back in the day, ev­ery­one knew when they were be­ing deroga­tory. Now, many peo­ple who pa­tron­ize and in­fan­tilize older peo­ple think they are ac­tu­ally be­ing com­pli­men­tary.

It’s as­ton­ish­ing how of­ten this comes from the ser­vice in­dus­try – from peo­ple who rely on tips for their liv­ing. A quick search re­veals dozens of com­plaints from older women about the way they are treated in restau­rants – usu­ally by younger male wait­ers. “How are you young ladies do­ing?” is a com­mon open­ing gam­bit or “What are we hav­ing to­day?” There are even posts with sug­gested re­torts and re­sponses. They range from “I didn’t know you were join­ing us” to adopt­ing a blank look with a straight face and ask­ing, “What do you mean?”

My most an­noy­ing ex­pe­ri­ence hap­pened at a day spa at an up­scale ho­tel. It was a gift from my hus­band in­tended to be a real treat. No sooner was I ly­ing on a bed in a robe and head wrap, when the es­theti­cian started: “So how old are you now, hon?” I felt trapped. A sharp re­sponse did not seem like a good idea given that she was about to give me a fa­cial. She per­sisted with talk of anti-ag­ing prod­ucts and my beauty reg­i­men. It took a lot of do­ing to get her to keep quiet. Clearly, she was hop­ing to up­sell me by mak­ing me feel in­se­cure. That’s a whole other story.

In an ar­ti­cle for an AARP pub­li­ca­tion, writ­ers Amanda Duarte and Mike Albo came up with a glos­sary of words they con­sider Cool, Not Cool and Just Plain Mean. The words “older,” “sea­soned” and “age­less” are Cool in their view. “Geezer,” “fo­gey” and “lit­tle old lady” are Just Plain Mean, while “over the hill” and “blue hairs” are Not Cool.

And of the phrase, “of a cer­tain age,” Duarte says, “It’s like the num­ber of your age is some kind of shame­ful thing if it’s high, so peo­ple are speak­ing in code about it.” But to me, the worst word on the list is “young” when it is used iron­i­cally by a younger per­son – for ex­am­ple, de­scrib­ing some­one aged 90 as “90 years young.”

The term “se­nior cit­i­zen” is also on the Not Cool list. In Ja­pan, a re­cent sur­vey found 90 per cent of peo­ple in their 60s re­ject the la­bel. I wish I could stop us­ing it – I have ac­tu­ally tried. But it is so en­trenched in govern­ment and so­cial pro­grams that it would be dif­fi­cult to report the news with­out it. I guess it will have to wait un­til our elected of­fi­cials get the memo.

The list also got me think­ing about the sto­ries we tell. Push­ing the bound­aries of age should be cel­e­brated, but I am in­creas­ingly see­ing head­lines that seem more pa­tron­iz­ing than pos­i­tive. Some­times I’ve been guilty of re­port­ing them my­self. There’s no ques­tion that cen­te­nar­i­ans who run marathons are news­wor­thy, but a 70-some­thing woman who takes a bal­let class or some­one in their 80s who plays ping-pong once a week? Maybe that recog­ni­tion is the equiv­a­lent of a pat on the head for a child or a pet.

I re­mem­ber get­ting re­ally an­noyed when a for­mer pro­ducer, who was 30-some­thing, pitched a story about a 66-year-old run­ning marathons. “There’s noth­ing un­usual about that,” I huffed be­fore curtly in­form­ing him that I know

“So let’s stop mak­ing a fuss when our el­ders do the ordinary”

quite a few 66-year-olds who would leave him in the dust. The prospect of be­ing that age or 76 or 80-some­thing seems a lot more daunt­ing from a dis­tance of 30 years. For those who are closer, not so much. So let’s stop mak­ing a fuss when our el­ders do the ordinary. And make sure you re­ally know who you’re calling “Dear!”

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