Numbers have always fascinated me, not the spreadsheet or statistic type mind you, but the nature of numbers themselves and the significance and meanings they have across differing cultures.

Something that does not hold such fascination is numbers when associated with age and those countless age idioms, which appear to be growing in their ubiquity.

Let’s start with those irritating ‘oh’ birthdays. Thirty used to be the first culprit, but this quickly shifted to the adage ‘Life begins at 40’.    If ‘Life begins at 40’ then does that mean that anything prior to that was supposed to be …… er….… just ‘OK’?

Next useless idiom: to be ‘the wrong side of……………’ or the adjectives ‘significant’ or ‘milestone’ which seem to have inexplicably attached themselves to the noun ‘birthday’.  I mean aren’t all birthdays ‘significant’?  I mean it’s a sign that we have all managed to survive yet another year!

Then we have the animal analogies (or are they metaphors)?  Amongst the ‘old dogs’ and the ‘dinosaurs’, I find it just a tad offensive (OK highly offensive) when anyone is referred to as no longer being a ‘spring chicken’.  I can personally verify that I have never identified as a chicken ………………or as a chick for that matter.

Layering on the complexity, we then find the issue of self-ageism.  Telling yourself that you are ‘past it’, ‘over the hill’ or ‘having a senior moment’ may well be a pre-emptive protective strike against others’ ageist remarks, but it clearly verges on the brink of self-sabotage.

For those who want to put a upbeat spin on the ageing process, the arguably neutral ‘age is but a number’  tries its best but still irks, as it lies somewhere between part platitude and part dismissal…. and not in a good way.

In such times of irritation, of course the excellent ‘Centre for Ageing Better’ comes to the rescue.  Always ahead of the curve, they have produced a helpful document guiding us as to more reasonable language when referring to the years one has spent on this planet.  Terms like ‘little old lady’ or ‘grumpy old woman’ are rightly thrown on the ageism bonfire and replaced with the preferred term of ‘older adults’.  Wisely terms such as ‘boomer’ and ‘millennials’ are viewed as generalisations which potentially generate division and encourage older people to be considered as something separate from the rest of society.

There is no doubt that ageing is a process, and incidentally one that lasts our entire life!  It is something we will all experience, in varying degrees, so surely rather than engaging with meaningless and outdated idioms, let’s view ageing as both a privilege and an opportunity and something that should not be reduced to a number.

For more information on the work of the Centre for Ageing Better in challenging ageism, go to: Centre for Ageing Better

© Striped Sisters 2022