This blog represents most of the newspaper columns (appearing in various Colorado Community Newspapers and Yourhub.com) written by me, James LaRue, during the time in which I was the director of the Douglas County Libraries in Douglas County, Colorado. (Some columns are missing, due to my own filing errors.) This blog covers the time period from April 11, 1990 to January 12, 2012.

Unless I say so, the views expressed here are mine and mine alone. They may be quoted elsewhere, so long as you give attribution. The dates are (at least according my records) the dates of publication in one of the above print newspapers.

The blog archive (web view) is in chronological order. The display of entries, below, seems to be in reverse order, new to old.

All of the mistakes are of course my own responsibility.

Wednesday, February 5, 1992

February 5, 1992 -

I have a theory that the more important or basic something is, the fewer syllables the word has that describes it.

Take, for instance, words like "home," or "food" -- things it would be hard to live without. Compare the word "spoon" with "refrigerator." "Spoon" has been around for a while. "Refrigerator" is a relative new-comer.

If a word has too many syllables, but whatever it is gains more importance in our society, then we make the word shorter. "Refrigerator" becomes "fridge." "Horseless carriage" first got cut back to "automobile." Now, we call it a "car." "Television" is "TV;" "telephone," just "phone."

But this principle works the other way, too. The words that describe people or things with "suspect" status -- they make people uncomfortable, or somehow they wind up carrying negative connotations -- tend to get more syllables.

Once upon a time we called people who couldn't hear, "deaf," and people that couldn't walk, "halt," or "lame." These conditions have always been present in the human race. The words weren't meant to be pejorative. But over time, people began to feel that somehow they were. So the same people became "hearing impaired," or "physically challenged." It didn't effect their situation, only the way we talked about it.

An especially interesting case is how the people we once called "colored," became in the 'sixties "blacks," and now, if I read the trend correctly, are on their way to becoming "African Americans."

But the subject of this week's column is the shift of a word that I think may be an even more profound indication of the shift of values in the culture of the United States.

That word is "old."

"Old" is not a good word anymore. Why? Because of the baby boom, maybe. Since then, it has been hip to be young.

Or maybe we don't like "old" things because of the influence of movies (which used to be called "motion pictures," incidentally, although these days you're more likely to see "films"). Most of our box office stars have pretty, young bodies -- and many other movie-folks spend a lot of money making their bodies LOOK young.

Old people, meanwhile, have somehow become "senior citizens," or the even more crotchety, "elderly." The only good old things are "antiques." Old buildings are "historic" -- because if they're not, they get torn down.

Note that "young" hasn't changed much. We don't refer to people under 40 as "junior citizens." And although we don't usually talk about things and buildings as "young" we do use the word "new" -- and what's "new" almost always means something good, certainly better than "old."

Our cultural fascination, even obsession with the young, programs some people in our society to a bleak, meaningless retirement. It traps other families into a situation where they can think of no solution but to warehouse older parents in ill-equipped nursing homes.

I submit that in order to become a truly healthy society, our attitude toward age must change. We must learn to provide appropriate emphasis to the different cycles of human life.

Next week, I'll talk about how the library, alone among all our public institutions, is uniquely equipped to provide services to people of all ages. Even -- especially -- the "old" ones.

No comments:

Post a Comment