I’ve already said I’m an old dog. As such, I’ve developed a sensitivity to certain words that are applied to those of us who have lived long enough to join the old dog pack. Those words are “feisty,” “spry,” and “elderly.” I have promised my friends of all ages that if they ever call me feisty or spry, they’re going to get a butt kicking.
Now “feisty” in and of itself is a fine word. A banty rooster is feisty, as are a lot of terriers and Chihuahuas. What I object to is the application of the term to any woman (it’s always a woman) of advanced years who doesn’t put up with shit. According to Merriam-Webster, “aggressive,” “bellicose,” “contentious,” and “quarrelsome” are all synonyms, but they are seldom applied to an older woman. No, she’s “feisty.” It’s patronizing.
“Spry” is another word that drives me up a wall! Merriam-Webster even gives examples of this being used to refer to an older person who is agile or light-footed or athletic. What’s wrong with using those terms? A few months back, a younger friend referred to my husband as “spry,” which earned him a tongue-lashing from me. (He probably thought I was being “feisty,” but was smart enough not to say so.) My husband is an old dog – he’s 78, after all – but the man still plays racquetball and snow skis. That’s athletic, no matter the age. Saying he’s “spry” is like patting him on the head and telling him he’s a good boy. It’s patronizing.
Finally, the word “elderly” ticks me off, although only when newscasters and journalists use it. You’ve heard it: “Two men broke into the home of an elderly woman and robbed her of cash and medications. The 65-year old woman was not injured.” They give her age, but still apply the term “elderly.” They do the same thing with people under the age of majority by giving their age and still saying "juvenile." I guess they think their audience is too dumb to figure it out for themselves. The word “elder” is different. It connotes wisdom and experience, and when used, shows respect. “Elderly” conjures up the image of someone weak and helpless. Besides, when exactly does a person become “elderly” anyway?
Before you think I’m being picky and way too sensitive, let me clarify that I don’t object to all words that are applied to old dogs. “Senior” is fine, especially when accompanied by “discount.”