Who are you calling a silver surfer? Let’s change the language around ‘ageing’ and end stereotypes
April 15, 2015 | By:
They way society describes growing older is damaging. Georgina Lee of The Age of No Retirement? calls for the use of plain, clear words, with five ways to end ageist language

Language_Ageism and sterotypes of older people. 620 Photo from StocksyOld, older, silver, encore, lonely, pensioner, retiree, ageing, ‘still’ healthy, living longer, declining, dependent, isolated, third age, sandwich generation, baby boomer…

These are just a few of the many words and phrases heard by my team, all referring to the same thing: growing older.

If we aren’t all using the same words and phrases in the same way, how can we effectively communicate the positive side of people who are older but not yet old? The vitality, experience, dynamism, wisdom, maturity and productivity?

The words and phrases we use, and the meanings and values we attach to them, should be simplified, defined and collectively agreed.

I believe the media has to move away from the euphemisms and stereotypes it uses so frequently, and which perpetuate the generational divide. Let’s return to simple descriptive words such as ‘older’ that have somehow lost their meaning.

If we all start to use the new vocabulary in the same positive, collective way, positive change could be achieved almost immediately.

Once the language campaign gains momentum we can then more effectively communicate our messages and stories; consistently, powerfully, emotively.

Five ways to end ageist, negative language:

1 Name and shame negative, stereotypical, derogatory, patronising use of language. Get rid of ‘silver surfer’, ‘senior citizen’, ‘golden years’, ‘old age pensioners’. Instead, use plain, simple and clear language to describe regular people. An older person is an older person. Period. Let’s retweet with a fame or shame hashtag. What hashtags should we use?

2 A media guide for broadsheets and big media channels, giving them a consistent toolkit on what is and isn’t appropriate or good practice. The Department for Work and Pensions is developing one and at The Age of No Retirement? we will work with them to make it as effective as possible.

3 Likewise, a guide for corporations, politicians, brands, schools and other major influencers who have the power to help overcome ageism and ageist stereotypes across the UK. We need ambassadors to lead the way and demonstrate by doing.

4 All use the same words. Let’s decide what the most important ones are, and then constantly use them. Loudly and consistently. The message will soon get through.

5 Ban or rethink events, services and brands that perpetuate the alienation of ‘old’. Suggestions in the debates include getting rid of Older People’s Day, repositioning Age UK, and rethinking who should get the bus pass and when.

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