Saturday, July 19, 2003

Old means new

LIFE expectancy has shown an increase all over the world. As more and more people live on beyond the age of seventy or eighty, language users have to create new words to deal with situations that were rare earlier but are common today. Language, as in all other situations, is again the gainer and takes on more neologisms, especially words to do with aging and the elderly. The floridisation of the world, solely an American concept till the recent past, is a global reality today, which means more American creations will enter the lexicon. Floridisation refers to the trait of a specific geographical area; showing a rapidly increasing percentage of senior citizens. According to the 2000 census, the percentage of people aged 65 and over in the USA is 12.4. In Florida, the percentage of those who are 65-plus is 17.6, the highest in any state, thus giving the word ‘floridisation’.

July 5, 2003
June 21, 2003
New avatars
June 7, 2003
May 24, 2003
Once upon a time...
May 10, 2003
Gifts from writers
April 26, 2003
Creative destruction
April 12, 2003
Language triumphs
March 29, 2003
March 15, 2003
Describing people
March 1, 2003

Baby boom was the term used for the sudden elevation in the birth rate after World War II. When the baby boom began back in 1946, there were 11 million people aged 65 and above in the USA. By the time the first boomers turn 65 in 2011 there will be 40 million people who are 65-plus and that number is expected to leap to 70 million by the time the last of the boomers turn 65 in 2029. That’s a lot of people turning senior, hence the neologism geezer glut, from the informal word ‘geezer’ for an old man; a chronological rounding-off of the baby boom. Juggling with all these figures gives age heaping, when many people (particularly older people) tend not to give their exact age in a survey. Instead, they round their age up or down to the nearest number that ends in 0 or 5. When the ages are graphed, the distribution isn’t smooth; instead, there are heaps over the ages ending in 0 and 5.

Elder has been used as a noun and an adjective but today, it has also emerged as a verb, perhaps pointing towards the more active role the aged now play in the world. Sharing wisdom and knowledge with people who are younger than one is to ‘elder’ them. In Sun-Sentinel (April 7, 1995), Rabbi Chaim Richter voices the opinion of today: ‘Thus, we affirm the success of eldering or "saging," not aging. Although we admire and love our young, significant wisdom lies with our elders.’ This leads onto the whole concept of the aging process in which people remain active physically and mentally. A visit to any park or recreational facility is enough to show that today’s senior citizen lives whole-heartedly the idea of active ageing. The U.N. regularly organises conferences on active ageing.

The purpose of such activities is to encourage the seniors to live life to the lees, a concept that is catching on in India, but gradually. Where earlier the word was newlyweds, today it is elderweds, to refer to all those people who get married later in life. A related word is familymoon, the honeymoon in which the bride and groom also bring their children from previous marriages.


The Hindi word vansh has its root in Sanskrit word vaans. It meant bamboo. Vaans later became baans, and the self-propagating nature of the bamboo plant was adopted as vansh to mean family tree. For example, Ram was from Suryavansh. Vansh also means the thick middle portion of the blade of a sword, a portion of the nose and is also another name for Lord Vishnu.