Writers need to rethink age adjectives.

When my grandmother was in her eighties, someone asked her the age of one of her friends. Her answer, “He’s not very old. About my age.

She wasn’t being flip or funny, it was a sincere reply. When retelling her answer, we all laughed. But now, over fifty years later, I realize the joke’s on us.

The other day I read an online article about a 71-year old Georgia woman named Judy Tucker, who had gotten herself arrested after some pretty reprehensible behavior on her part. One thing that caught my attention was that a number of news sources had referred to her as an elderly woman.

The description elderly doesn’t just conjure up visions of age, it also made me wonder if this woman was suffering some sort of dementia due to her advanced age, which might explain her outrageous and bigoted behavior. But then I looked at her picture and thought—she doesn’t look that old.

From my perspective 71 doesn’t seem all that old anymore. I can think of many 70-something friends who I don’t consider elderly.

I looked up the definition of elderly online and according to Merriam-Websterit means: rather old;  especially  : being past middle age

I then looked up the definition of middle age. According to Merriam-Websterit is: the period of life from about 45 to about 64.

In one way I am relieved. According to Merriam-Webster I am still in my middle age—until this coming November.  Does that mean I will then be elderly? Just how past middle age is elderly? One day? One year?

Writers need to think twice before using a word like elderly to describe a person just because that person’s birth falls after middle age. While Judy Tucker didn’t seem like a very nice woman, I don’t understand why they called her elderly. Just state her age and remove the additional adjectives that don’t accurately depict the subject.

Another thing—writers often refer to a person as a Grandmother, as if that image conjurers up sweet little silver haired ladies baking cookies.  It’s often used when that woman has done something that contradicts the grandma stereotype—like when she has robbed a bank or single handedly taken down a mugger. I feel the writer tosses in that adjective for shock effect.

In my opinion, in most of those instances stating the woman is a grandmother makes as much sense as pointing out she’s a Pisces or dyes her hair. Fact is, any woman can become a grandmother—and it doesn’t say anything about her character or age. My aunt was a grandmother at age 35—that’s not even in the middle-age range.

(Photo: Our friend Dave Walsh taking my mother for a motorcycle ride. She was 85-years old when the picture was taken.)