A Few Words About A Few Words
Considering "Children; Old; and Retirement"
These three words -- children (as opposed to child), old, and retirement -- could or, in my view, should be, well, retired or at least reconsidered.
They are in today’s language misleading, pejorative, or outdated. Let’s take them one at a time.
When the attorney general of New York State, Letitia James, charged Donald Trump Jr., Ivanka Trump, and Eric Trump with civil fraud, former U.S. Attorney General Wiliam Barr said, “What ultimately persuades me that this is a political hit job is she grossly overreaches when she tries to drag the children into this.” Don Jr. is forty-four, Ivanka is forty, Eric is thirty-eight.
As my own son and daughter have reached maturity with children of their own, of whom my wife and I are grandparents, I have wanted to call them offspring. My editor, Paul Golob, asserts that is a clinical-sounding term when talking about a relationship within a specific family. We checked and children is also standard New Yorker magazine style in this context, no matter their age. After all, they will always be the children of their parents is the contention.
But the notion that the three Trumps are too childish to be capable of grift and fraud is, can we agree, absurd?
I was, however, surprised to see in The New York Times recently this paragraph in a column about the costs of college:
“Then there are the higher income families. Plenty of people with household incomes of, say, $300,000 won’t qualify for much need-based aid, if any. Still, they may not have much college savings for their offspring if they’ve been repaying their own student debt for decades.” Progress?
A “child” is generally understood to be someone too young to vote, drive, buy alcohol or cigarettes, or join the military. Hence, there comes a point when they may still have come from parents, that they are not children but offspring – or perhaps something else yet to be devised.
Here are some consensus definitions:
“Having lived for a long time; made or built long ago” or less formally, “boring or tiresome; belonging only or chiefly to the past.”
I am “old,” which is to say that I am over sixty-five years of age and according to the current estimates, I can reasonably expect to make it to eighty-five – which means I will have been “old” for a third or so of my adult life.
Now that Baby Boomers are mostly old, we should consider a less critical adjective – one less likely to be a synonym for “aged, elderly, or frail.” How about venerable, experienced, seasoned, or once again, a term yet to be devised?
I once suggested cool to my younger colleagues. They laughed.
This has become a very significant misnomer. The word originated, according to Oxford Languages, in the mid-sixteenth century (in the sense of “a withdrawl to a place of safety or seclusion”) from the French retirer, from re “back” + tirer “draw.”
The implication is that you receive a gold watch (or something less valuable) and get out of the way. As long ago as 2005, Marc Freedman, a leading expert in such matters, wrote in The Washington Post on how retirement had become a marketing term, analogous to golden years and the sale of a lifestyle in places like Del Webb’s many Sun Cities retirement communities.
My alternative term is repositioning. You may no longer be doing what you did for the previous forty years or so – to the standard retirement age of sixty-five – but you may well (and in my opinion should) continue to deploy knowledge, instincts, and curiosity in other forums. Society needs that experience – and using it can be of value and service. It can also be age-defying in various ways.
In discussion with our friends John and Nina Darnton, once based in Madrid for The New York Times, they added another and appealing term: Retirement in Spanish is jubilacion.
So, this has turned out to be more than a few words about a few words. But we venerable can sometimes be loquacious.