Stumbled upon write up Jane Gross did on words that “should be avoided” when referring to older people.
Lesson one. “Elderly” is a word the two organizations would prefer we eliminate. Oops. We have used it here often.
But now we know better. In the glossary of the new stylebook, “Media Takes: On Aging,’’ the authors state their case against “elderly” as follows.
Use this word carefully and sparingly. The term is appropriate only in generic phrases that do not refer to specific individuals, such as concern for the elderly, a home for the elderly, etc. In other words, describing a person as elderly is bad form, although the generalized category “elderly” might not be offensive. (Suggested substitutions include “older adult” or simply “man’’ or “woman” with the age inserted, if relevant.)
Also to be avoided are “senior citizen” (we don’t refer to people under age 50 as “junior citizens,” the guide notes) and “golden years” (euphemisms are probably not the best way to go, we learn). “Feisty,” “spry,” “feeble,” “eccentric,” “senile” and “grandmotherly” are also unwelcome terms, patronizing and demeaning, as is calling someone “80 years young.”