The answers to these questions may never come, but I clearly remember hearing the grandmother always referred to herself this way, "I'm not old, I'm older," and being struck. What a great perspective!
Old versus older - the words alone come across as different. When we hear something or someone is old a picture appears in our head. For a building it would be heritage worthy with old style architecture. It could be crumbling and invaded by plants, or beautifully restored. Either way, we want to see it and experience it. Old in architecture is connected to heritage and beauty.
Often, however, when we refer to a person as old, the vision is totally different. We think wrinkles, hard of hearing, mobility issues, grey hair or no hair, care homes, and a mind that doesn't work quite right. We think decrepit and needing to be taken care of. What happened to the heritage and the beauty of age? With people we seem to have let that fall by the way side.
So many cultures revere and respect their aging members. Instead of old, the term elder is used and the vision that arises is of wisdom gained over a lifetime. These senior members are honored and the words they share carry weight. How did our wider North American culture stray so widely from this concept? How did we come to treat our elders like children who know nothing?
How wonderful if we could change our terminology around aging. Old - and several other offensive ageist words - could be banished from the dictionary. It wouldn't be the Old Age Pension (for some reason this in particular makes my toes curl), it could be the Mature Adult Benefit. Sounds better doesn't it? Maybe the Senior's Discount could be the Matriarch Reward. How about the Old Person's Home become the Older Freedom Base, a base from which those retired could go out to explore and have new experiences.
Words have such power. If you don't believe me just spend a few hours on social media researching different topics. The way people use words can push forward an idea in a way that says, "I'm right, you're wrong," or in a way that is a sharing of opinions. Words can subtly promote sexism, racism and ageism, or help to bring those ideas to their knees.
As I writer, I have had to learn this the hard way. Thank goodness for editors that help me SEE how my words might land. But it's a continuing journey for me that will never stop. I am committed to strive to learn, grow and use words in a better way. And for those times I miss the mark, I humbly apologize.