This book is full of nasty words


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.

Comments

  1. says

    Speaking of Salt Lake City, it hit 107 yesterday, tied for its highest recorded temperature ever and an all-time record high there for June (the only two previous days reaching that temperature were both in July).

  2. microraptor says

    SC @1: One of my friends who lives outside of SLC said a couple of days ago that it’s already considered the hottest summer in the last 20 years in Utah.

  3. says

    I’m a shade older than you with a long white beard and yes I have been called Santa Claus. To my family I am Grizzly Grandpa. I like the Malay term for elders, “warga emas”. It means “golden generation”.

  4. christoph says

    “Oh, hey, geezer isn’t in the book, but silly old fart is.”

    The proper form of address is “Your Flatulence.”

  5. flange says

    I really hate “Senior.”
    When addressed as a “Senior”, I say that I prefer “Old”, or “Shithead.”

  6. says

    When I became active in the Luso-American writing community and began reading some of the extant literature, I read Through a Portagee Gate by Charles Reis Felix, a touching memoir of the author’s experience in growing up in a struggling Portuguese-American family in New England and hiding his ethnic heritage after moving to the West Coast (ironic, given how many Azorean-Americans live in California). The publisher told me there were many virulent complaints about the title, since “Portagee” was considered “the P-word” by many Luso-descendants, who abhor it. This came as quite a surprise to me, since in my Central California community the word was mostly regarded as informal and not particularly derogatory unless some SOB Anglo spit it in your face (which made all the difference in the world). Context, I guess.

  7. hemidactylus says

    My dad who had COPD progress to emphysema and thankfully VA privileges, said many a time: “Getting old ain’t for wussies.”

    Trying to get out of bed after side sleeping aggravates my lumbar region so I resemble that remark and I’m only in my early 50s.

    I used to tell my dog she needs to respect her elders. She’s a toy breed, but at 16 yo next month she is my elder. Watching her get up from a comfortable sleep sometimes limping gingerly and stretching it out makes me wince. Once she’s up and moving puppy impulses overtake elderly blindness.

  8. tmartin says

    Growing up, youths in my circle of acquaintance referred to old people as ‘shrivs’ short for shriveled.
    Still makes me laugh, though I’m starting to resemble the term.

  9. Craig says

    Well, the Mormon stuff isn’t quite right. Deacon would actually be the lowest ranking. There are two “orders” of the Mormon priesthood: the Aaronic priesthood consisting of deacons, teachers, and priests, and the Melchizedek priesthood consisting of elders, high priests, patriarchs, seventies, and apostles. Both lists are in rough order of usual age of attainment.

    The Aaronic priesthood titles are used for teenage boys. The Melchizedek priesthood starts at age 18. And yes, having 12-year-old deacons, 16-year-old priests, and 18-year-old elders is completely ludicrous.

    Most adult males don’t go any higher than “elder”. My own father died at 79 never having gotten a higher “office” in the priesthood, and I left Mormonism at the same level. I rather wish I had never had any acquaintance with the inanity of Mormonism.

  10. KG says

    <

    blockquote>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.)

    <

    blockquote>

    Last time I was accosted in the street by a Mormon “elder”, who can hardly have been more than 20, I looked him in the badge and said:

    Elder? Who d’you think you’re kidding, sonny?

    A bit mean, perhaps, given how they’re pressured into it, but he was unusually bumptious, even for a missionary.

  11. maireaine46 says

    We lived in Salt Lake for a year in the early 70s, no need to explain about their “Elders”. We left because we could not see raising kids there with the Mormon Church controlling virtually everything. It was a beutiful place, but they ruined it.

  12. birgerjohansson says

    If you are looking for outright cursewords, nothing can beat the language of Finland. Perkkele!
    .
    Salt Lake City: in a mormon-financed film about the Mormon pioneers, it was said that the Mormon leader “made peace” with the indians….

  13. Rob Grigjanis says

    birgerjohansson @21: Not Finnish, but closely related. In a DP camp after WWII, my dad (a Latvian) met some Estonians, and he passed on to me a phrase he learned from them. It stuck with me because it sounded cool, but I can’t vouch for the meaning, or spelling (which my dad didn’t provide, and I’m guessing);

    Sitta ruttu, karu tule

    Shit faster, there’s a bear coming.

  14. lumipuna says

    Birgerjohansson:

    If you are looking for outright cursewords, nothing can beat the language of Finland.

    I’ve heard this notion (about Finnish swearwords) from Swedish speakers here in Finland, though they might point out that Swedish is also “a language of Finland”.

    Rob – I don’t mostly understand Estonian, but “karu tule” is almost identical to the Finnish for “bear comes” or “bear is coming”.

Leave a Reply