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Image Description: Close up on a pair of older adult male hands holding a pen that's writing on paper. Image credit: Getty Images

"Senior Citizen" vs. "Older Adult"

Fred Erikson discusses preferred terminology

by Fred W. Erikson

CALL ME ISHMAEL

 

Senior Citizen sounded cool to younger me. I still much prefer it over Junior Citizen, although I must have been one. In high school, when I was a junior I wanted to be a senior and was not suitably impressed when I became one. Yet, I still remember the shock the first time someone younger called me “sir.” I remember wanting to be twelve, then eighteen, and twenty and then finding out that little changed with age except for other peoples’ expectations. Now I am eighty-five and still eighteen, and thirty, and fifty, and sixty-five. Perhaps I have grown; evolved, but not changed. If I am senior, it is only because of time in grade. If you ask me what I prefer to be called, I suppose my answer is simply “Fred.” “Dad” or “Grandpa;” of course those don’t deserve a great deal of merit. I am not sure I can take any credit for them either.

  

In other words, I would prefer to be called by something I could take some credit for. Having survived through the vagaries of DNA or a safe environment, or whatever else saved me from the pitfalls of life, is, I suppose, worth something, but senior citizen doesn't seem to be much better than “Old Man.” It really doesn’t change who I am and I’m not sure there is a term that would capture my “Apologia pro vita sua.”* The life I have lived is unique to me. I am more than a citizen, more than a senior. Some may have lived it better, some worse. I am a man in all the ways that term suggests. That should be just as true for a woman.


I can take credit for the man I am. I cannot take credit for being old. Whether you call me old man, or senior citizen, is really not the question. The question is whether I wish to be part of a group. I would rather be an old man than a senior citizen. Call me Fred, Grandpa, Dad, or Old Man. Call me Ishmael. But don’t make me generic.


*A Defense of a life well-lived.

– Moby Dick

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