Society, aided and abetted by the federal government, decided at some unspecified time that it wasn’t nice to say somebody was old. That’s when they came up with the terms “aging” and “aged.” They didn’t last long as synonyms for being old, because everyone is aging or aged. Cheese is best when aged, but it is aging as soon as it curdles. That is true with people. They used to have homes for the aging, which came after old folks homes, but they probably changed that because aging simply means everyone inside is alive. If you are no longer aging, be you 21 or 88, you are dead.Then they came up with elderly, which seemed okay to me, and, according to my dictionary, it simply means “past middle age and approaching the rest of life.” As far as I knew, everyone was quite comfortable with elderly when it suddenly became taboo. One magical day, the older segment of our population—the group beyond middle age, whenever that ends—became known as senior citizens. Senior citizens? It was another attempt to define a growing part of our population without offending anyone. What do you call a person 65 and older who hasn’t yet received his U.S. citizenship—a senior alien? Euphemisms have been with us for a long time, but each succeeding generation seems to become more reliant on them. One of the more obvious is the word “gay.” How this word came to describe sexuality is a mystery to me. As far as I know, homosexuals aren’t any merrier, happier or more joyous than the rest of us. So how did they end up being gay? What does that make the rest of us, cranky? In the newspaper business, euphemisms are common, and I certainly don’t find them objectionable all the time. I believe the literal meaning of the word is “good words.” We could probably use more good words in these negatively-charged times, as long as they don’t distort reality.Death probably has more euphemisms than any other word. Just read obituaries and you’ll see few people die any more. They surrender to God’s will, succumb, expire and bid farewell to this earthly realm. I remember receiving an angry letter when I was young and working for another newspaper. The writer was some man well into his seventies who grumbled (if writing can grumble) that he was becoming somewhat irked by all this succumbing. “Did these people die or didn’t they?” he asked.I tend to agree. For starters, warrantees and subscriptions expire, and they may also be renewed. Such is not the case with life. They should put expiration dates on all of us, and then we wouldn’t have to guess. That could become quite stressful, I suppose.“Let’s see, ‘Not good after Nov. 1, 2007.’ That’s this week!”I understand an obituary is a very personal and intimate thing for loved ones and friends—the so-called survivors—but I don’t need to be told someone has gone to heaven or to be with the Lord. I feel that if the latter is indeed the case, those who know him or her will not have to be told that. As for those whose lives have not been all that exemplary, such euphemistic phrasing will only serve to mock their memory. I would not want my obituary to say I bit the dust, kicked the bucket or gave up the ghost, which are also euphemisms, because they lack tact. The traditional obituary terminology is “passed away,” which will be fine with me for the announcement of my departure as a living creature upon the cessation of my beating heart. On the other hand, I wouldn’t be offended if they simply let everyone know I died. It’s not such a bad word—short if not so sweet—and everyone knows what it means.Being called old shouldn’t be a bad thing. You have earned that distinction. Being old means you are brimming with life experiences, that you may have some wisdom to share with others. If you are old and still haven’t learned anything, that makes you stupid. As for being called dead, you won’t even know it when your time comes.
Wes Skillings is a Pennsylvania-based copywriter whose recent emergence into this field brings a freshness and vitality that will make the words on your website, newsletter, direct mail marketing or news release reach out and grab the customer base you are seeking.