Age/Generation Glossary

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  • adoption
    The language of adoption has evolved dramatically over the past few decades. Many terms commonly used a generation ago are now considered not only offensive but inaccurate. Some years ago a group of adoption advocates calling themselves the Accurate Adoption Reporting Group prepared a Suggested Adoption Stylebook in an attempt to educate journalists and other media writers to write or talk about adoption in a more sensitive and informed way. The guide is not available on the Internet, but is quoted widely, as in this article from Adoptive Families Association of British Columbia. Here are some tips from the guide: As with race or gender, the fact that a person was adopted should be mentioned only if it’s essential to the story. If it is used, its relevance should be made clear. A daughter who joined the family through adoption is—and should be described as—simply a daughter. If it is relevant to mention adoption, use past-tense phrasing such as: She was adopted in 1997, rather than She is adopted. Adoption is one of many events in a person’s past, not an immutable personal trait. An adopted person’s parents should be referred to simply as father, mother, or parents. The man and woman who shared in the child’s conception can be referred to as the birth or genetic or biological parents (not real or natural parents). Writers should avoid terms such as abandoned or given up. It is usually inaccurate to refer to children available for adoption as orphans. Often, their birth parents are alive. Nor should children be referred to as unwanted. It is better to say that birth parents placed the child for adoption, made an adoption plan, or transferred parental rights. The reasons that people adopt are rarely relevant. To suggest or say that parents couldn’t have a baby of their own is inaccurate. Adoption is not second best. Children who join families through adoption are their parents “own” by law and by love. Stories should not portray adoptive parents as unusually selfless or saintly. In most cases, families adopt because they want to be parents and are no more saintly or selfless than other parents. The National Council for Adoption and Adoptive Families, a resource and community for adoptive families, each have guides to adoption language. This chart brings together accurate and less-accurate language from these two guides.
  • adultism
    According to the National Youth Rights Association, adultism "refers to behaviors and attitudes based on the assumption that adults are better than young people, and entitled to act upon young people without their agreement. This mistreatment is reinforced by social institutions, laws, customs, and attitudes."
  • ageism
    Stereotyping and prejudice against individuals or groups because of their age. The term was coined in 1969 by gerontologist Robert N. Butler, M.D., founder, president and CEO of the International Longevity Center at Columbia University, to describe discrimination against seniors and patterned on sexism and racism. Dr. Butler defined ageism as a combination of three connected elements: prejudicial attitudes towards older people, old age and the aging process; discriminatory practices against older people; and institutional practices and policies that perpetuate stereotypes about older people.
  • aging
    An ongoing, all-inclusive process rather than a label placed on older, frail adults.
  • Alzheimer's disease
    The Cleveland Clinic defines Alzheimer’s disease as “a progressive and fatal disease in which nerve cells in the brain degenerate and brain matter shrinks, resulting in impaired thinking, behavior and memory.” The Alzheimer’s Association identifies it as the most common form of dementia. Symptoms include disorientation, mood and behavior changes, and confusion. The disease is named after German neurologist Alois Alzheimer, who first identified the disease. The proper term is Alzheimer’s disease, never Alzheimer’s. Disclose that an individual has Alzheimer’s disease only if it is relevant to the story and if the person has been formally diagnosed by a licensed medical professional. Refer to the subject as someone who has Alzheimer’s disease rather than using suffers from or afflicted with. For more information about Alzheimer's Disease click on the Alzheimer's Association's "What is Alzheimer's?" page.      
  • baby boom
    U.S. Births: 1940-1980 (Baby Boomer Generation in Red) Data from U.S. Census Bureau Infographic by Arash Malekzadeh using Infogr.am A baby boom is any period marked by a greatly increased birth rate, but the term is most often applied to the dramatic increase in births after World War II. The U.S. Census Bureau estimates that 76 million Americans were born during the post-war baby boom (1946–1964). For more about the baby boom, see The Baby Boom Cohort in the United States: 2012 to 2060, a report by the U.S. Census Bureau.
  • boomer
    Describes a person who was born during the post-World War II baby boom between 1946 and 1964. Boomers and boomer generation are preferred over baby boomers, which is perceived as condescending. As it captures an entire and diversified generation of 76 million people, they should not be lumped together unless compared to other generations.
  • codger
    Ageist terminology. Avoid.
  • elderly
    Use this word carefully and sparingly. The term is appropriate only in generic phrases that do not refer to specific individuals: concern for the elderly, a home for the elderly, etc. In other words, describing a person as elderly is bad form, although the generalized category elderly might not be offensive. If the intent is to show that an individual’s faculties have deteriorated, the Associated Press Stylebook recommends citing a graphic example and attributing it to someone.
  • geezer
    Ageist terminology. Avoid.
  • gerontology/geriatrics
    Gerontology is the study of the social, psychological and biological aspects of aging; distinguished from geriatrics, which is the branch of medicine that studies the diseases, disabilities and health of older people.
  • midlife
    References to people in midlife are more inclusive than using boomer(s), a term identifying one’s birth cohort. Midlife generally identifies the years between people’s early 40s and early 60s, but precision is somewhat slippery. Be aware that middle age traditionally was considered to begin at age 35, when 70 was regarded as a typical benchmark for very old age. Increasingly, the large and generally active baby boomer generation is likely to extend the concept of midlife well into the 60s, according to Paul Kleyman, editor of Aging Today.  
  • older (people, adults, individuals, Americans and so on)
    A national survey of nearly 100 age-beat journalists found that this is the top choice term, seen by reporters as the more neutral and flexible general descriptor for people in later life. (The 2007 Journalists Exchange on Aging survey was coordinated by Paul Kleyman, editor of Aging Today, and Steve Slon, editor of AARP: The Magazine).    
  • senior, senior citizen
    Use the term sparingly; can be discriminatory in nature; the preferred terminology is older adults.