Young-old and old-old

Posted by ESC on October 07, 2001

In Reply to: Young-old and old-old posted by R. Berg on October 06, 2001

: : : I have an elderly friend who asked me if I knew where the phrase "the golden years" came from. (He seems to thonk there is some sarcasm contained therein) I have spent several hours researching his question;to no avail. Can anyone help?

: : The information following makes me think "golden years" were an advertising slogan perhaps calling to mind the gold watches of retirement and years in the golden sunlight of Florida:

: : " 'Senior citizen' has been a popular euphemism since the 1950s, when the number of older people suddenly seemed to have multiplied. It had: in 1900 the average life expectancy was forty-five, by 1950 the average life span was almost seventy years; the population had doubled but the number of people 65 and over had quadrupled to become 8 percent of the total.In the 1950s, for the first time, millions were reaching the age and had pensions to become 'retirees,' a new American group, and a new word to most. But by now pensions themselves, the small houses built quickly after World War II, and the new Postwar life-styles had destroyed the 'extended family' in which the elderly lived with their children and grandchildren. People began talking about the new 'retirement houses' in 'retirement villages' and 'apartments for seniors' where the elderly, according to the ads, could most happily spend their 'golden years.' Warm places without the rigors of winter and expenses of furnaces and overcoats." From Listening to America: An Illustrated History of Words and Phrases from Our Lively and Splendid Past by Stuart Berg Flexner (Simon and Schuster, New York, 1982).

: : This next phrase for old person uses "golden" but it has an opposite reference. Instead of the "golden years" being now, in one's old age, golden refers to the old days.

: : "golden-ager - n an old person. US, euphemism. From 'golden age' past period of prosperity or excellence. 1970 Harry Waugh: Frank bought himself a drink in the bar.while watching the golden-agers gossip in the lounge area." From "20th Century Words: The Story of New Words in English Over the Last 100 Years" by John Ayto (Oxford University Press, New York, 1999).

: : I am 50 ("young old," according to a quote I saw in the newspaper) and I hope to live to be old old. A cranky old woman who will pummel anyone who calls me a senior citizen.

: That newspaper writer must have been young-young. From Chapter One of Janet Belsky, "The Psychology of Aging: Theory, Research, and Practice" (Brooks/Cole Publishing Co., 1984): "In advanced old age, the chance of being physically disabled by illness increases dramatically. In part because of this higher probability, gerontologists often find it useful to make a distinction between two chronological subgroups of older adults: the young-old and the old-old. The young-old, arbitrarily defined as those aged 65 to 74, are often free from disabling illnesses. The old-old, those age 75 and over, seem to be in a different class. Since they are more likely to have impairing problems, they are more prone to fit at least the physical stereotype of the older adult." Dr. Belsky neglects to report when one can expect impairment in one's ability to pummel.

I'll have to go back and find that quote -- it was a pull quote on the opinion page of a local paper. I was a little shocked to see 50 as the beginning of oldsterism.