By Tracy Enright
Age is more than a number; it’s also a state of mind. It’s easy to look at older people who seem to have maintained a youthful outlook on life and wonder exactly what their secret is. Diet and exercise are easily identified as good for helping you look and feel younger, but language? Can how you speak really have such an impact?
Age Isn’t Just a Number
It’s human nature to assess people and come to conclusions about them based on what we see or hear. It’s a survival trait that stems from a time when the threats could be deadly, and one we use today to temper how we relate to others in everyday life. It’s rare to know exactly how old someone is biologically, so judgements are based on other factors. An older first-time mother might appear to be ten or fifteen years younger than she is because it’s most common to have children earlier. Someone in their forties can appear much older if they dress in way more common to people in their fifties or sixties. But what about when people speak?
(Not) All About the Slang
English, in common with many other languages, evolves and changes; in 2020 alone over 2,000 changes were made to the Oxford English Dictionary as new words were added or existing words had additional meanings assigned. Language, both written and spoken, is one of the primary forms of communication, and how each person uses it is almost unique to them. Each word is more than just its basic defintion, as context and subtext will subtly alter the meaning conveying emotions, expectations, and more. How you age yourself through your language is more than not understanding the latest slang. Slang is, by definition, restricted to a smaller group of people or context and it’s not just bound by age; teens may seem to have their own language, yet Cockney rhyming slang has nothing to do with age and everything to do with a specific part of London, and ex-military personnel may find themselves translating for civilians who would find themselves lost otherwise. Slang or not, words, any words, have weight; they are loaded with concepts that inform perceptions. Could you be using language in a way that ages you?
Framing, Not Walking Frame
How you describe things or refer to yourself gives others a framework to assess you. There are many words or phrases that can age you. Telling someone you’re too old to do something, whether that’s jumping on a trampoline or merely trying a new experience, places you firmly in the ageing end of the spectrum. You can change this; there are ways to reframe yourself in the eyes of others, and yourself.
Changing the Frame
Identifying which words or phrases age you will make you more conscious of when they slip into your conversation. Excusing yourself as not being as young as you were or rejecting something as too young for you has the same effect. There are other words that can push a negative view of being old; elderly, decrepit, doddery, grizzled, old fogey, and over the hill are all words that portray a negative aspect of getting older. Banning these words from your vocabulary can make a difference to both you and your listener. Setting yourself a reward for getting rid of euphemisms for age, or a penalty when you falter, is a good way to make this become a habit.
Using phrases or whistling jingles from a TV show from the 1960s or 1970s can show your age just as much as your silver hair. If you want to appear more youthful, especially in emails and phone calls, drop those references. If you must use references, watch those MTV clips, walk-the-walk and talk-the-talk.
It Can All Be In the Mind
Getting older is a reality, but it need not be terrible and can become something that can be appreciated and valued. Wisdom and experience can come with age, and these are both positive aspects. You’re less likely to jump into situations blindly, and, thanks to a lifetime of experiences, you’ll have so many skills you can apply to any given situation. Looking at your time in these terms will reinforce the positives rather than the negatives and that will show in your language use.
Actions Also Matter
Words can just be words if they aren’t supported by action. Adopting a positive mental approach that sees you seizing opportunities to do something new, whether that’s a sport or hobby you’ve wanted to pursue or going back into education, will add a different spin on the way you present yourself to the world. Trying something different can expose you to a new perspective on life. It can help you start to feel less stressed or anxious about what increased age may bring, which can, in turn, bring the benefits of renewed enthusiasm and motivation for life, reducing the physical and mental impacts of stress. Associating with new people, especially if they’re from different age groups, will help you connect more with others in a way that reflects your vitality rather than reinforcing the stereotypes of what someone your age “should” be doing.
Everyone ages and there is little to be done about some of the physical effects, but there’s a lot that can be done about how you respond to both getting older and the toll age can take on your body. When you talk, think, and feel yourself younger, others will start to see you that way too. And it can all start with a few words.
About the Author
Tracy is a UK-based freelance writer with a special interest in child development, aging and diversity and HR/business issues. Her writing experience includes web articles, policies, reports, job descriptions, training packages, presentations, adverts and business correspondence of all types and academic essays. Her strength is translating technical information into language that can be easily understood by all.