I find I’m only able to read it in short bursts, so it’s taken me a while to finish it. Stollznow’s On the Offensive: Prejudice in Language Past and Present is a catalog of slurs. It’s fascinating, but every page is basically, here’s a hurtful horrible word. Here’s where it came from. Here’s why it’s so awful. Here’s the context where it’s sometimes used in a non-awful way. So sure, you’ll get a few pages of thoughtful discussion of the various permutations of the n-word, which is useful to know, but it’s sort of exhausting as well.
It’s organized by category, so it’s easy to get your surfeit of racism on one day, and sexism the next, and ableism after that. The chapter on ageism was personally useful, at least. It provides a guide in how to address me.
Elderly person and elderly people are commonly used as polite terms. As a noun, elder has positive connotations and suggests seniority rather than being old. The word implies a sense of dignity and respect, and even power, influence, and authority, in phrases such as our elders and betters, elders of the tribe, the village elder, and elder brethren. (Ironically, in the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, elder is the lowest ranking in the priesthood and typically refers to younger men.) In early English, elder was the comparative of old, while eldest was the superlative form (i.e., old, elder, eldest), so elder was equivalent to modern day older. The comparative adjectives older and elder are generally perceived as more polite than the unmarked adjectives old or elderly. While elder has retained positive connotations, elderly has now acquired ageist associations. Older is relative; everyone is older than someone else, so it has become the preferred term that is used in phrases such as older person, older people, older adults, or older Americans, as a general descriptor for people in later life.
Unfortunately, I lived in Salt Lake City for too long, and the Mormons, as usual, ruined everything. “Elder Myers” is a name that would be embossed on a plastic tag over the pocket of a starched white shirt on a beardless guy wearing a black tie, not me. I guess you’re just going to have to address me as that cranky geezer.
Oh, hey, geezer isn’t in the book, but silly old fart is.