What do terms like "feisty," "spry," "elderly" and "grandmotherly" have in common? Yes, they are commonly used to refer to older people; but they can be used to express derogatory stereotypes about someone because of age.
An article in today’s New York Times, "Goodbye Spry Codgers, So Long Feisty Crones," reports that two groups, the International Longevity Center in New York City and the Aging Services of California, have put together a stylebook to guide media professionals through the minefield of politically correct and politically incorrect ways of identifying and portraying the elderly. Among the potentially unwelcome terms identified are “senior citizen," “golden years," “feisty,” “spry,” “feeble,” “eccentric,” “senile” and “grandmotherly.” Likewise, it can be viewed as patronizing to call someone “80 years young.” As for what’s on our coffee mug? Don’t even go there.
Is this another example of "political correctness" run amok, and can we just ignore it? Probably not. As previously reported here in the Stoel Rives World of Employment, ageist remarks like "grandma" can form the basis of an age discrimination lawsuit. Employers should be careful about how age-related terms are used in the workplace. It is unlikely that using a term like "senior citizen" by itself will lead to a lawsuit, but using it in the context of a performance review or a termination meeting might.