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Boomers won’t go gentle into that good night

Rebecca Nappi The Spokesman-Review

The country’s first baby boomers will hit 60 this year. But don’t call them senior citizens. Boomers won’t stand for it. Parade magazine is even sponsoring a contest to find a replacement word.

I realized the need for some new terminology for aging boomers while reading our Jan. 5 front-page story on the Mt. Spokane Prime Timers, a group of skiers 55 and older.

The headline called the skiers “Old-Timers.” The label didn’t fit, because these folks ski all winter, and they all looked to me to be in pretty darn good shape. No one protested the old-timers label, as far as I could discern. Maybe the Prime Timers are made up mostly of Silent Generation types, those born before the boomers.

We boomers are never silent.

We were born between 1946 and 1964, and there were so many of us – nearly 77 million – that we changed the cultural landscape as we trudged through each decade.

The way our rock music, student protests – and self-absorption – changed society has been well-documented. But I haven’t seen much written about how our generation altered the culture’s vocabulary.

The words hippie and yuppie described our activities in the counterculture ‘60s and the consumer-driven ‘80s. During our women’s liberation period, calling grown women girls became verboten. We even mainstreamed a new courtesy title – Ms. as an alternative to Mrs. or Miss.

Action follows appellation. Would grown-up girls feel empowered to fight for equal pay and promotion? I think not. And now the label senior citizens doesn’t do justice to the radical way boomers will grow older. We’ll play Beatles music in our retirement homes – or our creative alternatives to retirement homes.

So we need some alternative words, and we need them soon. AARP: The Magazine and AARP Bulletin eschew the words old and senior the way 20-something folks avoid early-bird restaurant specials. The publications overuse the word older, because it’s the only universally acceptable term to describe older folks these days.

So for your further consideration, I offer today some suggested new terms for aging boomers, culled from brainstorming with other boomers.

Aging Hipsters: This is the name of a great Web site – www.aginghipsters.com – that contains facts, figures and fun concerning all things boomer. Its creators, Jan Reisen, 54, and Pete Kooiker, 50, are obsessed, like me, with the baby boomer generation. The term aging hipsters acknowledges the passing of time but hints at a remaining trace of cool.

In a phone interview from her home in New Jersey, Reisen explained why she thinks boomers dislike the term senior citizen.

“It has an old fogey feel about it,” she said. “You know our generation; we think we’re better than that.”

S’boomers: The S hints at senior without saying it. The apostrophe harkens to s’mores, a favorite camp snack from childhood.

Belders: The B, for boomer, softens any negative connotation of elders.

Rolling Stones: The infamous rockers – once depicted in a comedy skit with medical IV poles attached to their guitars – would be flattered if the aging process was named after their band. Rolling connotes action, while the word stones implies a certain grounding.

Boomers: Simply removing the word baby declares our growing maturity, like shortening a childhood name from Sammy to Sam.

The SAKs: Stands for “Still Alive and Kicking.” I like this one, because I sense that the obsession with proper aging terms is just another distraction from an inescapable truth. We demographic kings and queens of the world are headed the same direction as those senior citizens who came – and went – before us.

Senior has a certain finality to it,” Reisen said. “There’s nothing after senior.”

Except death and dying, which remains the only thing we boomers can’t control through a vocabulary adjustment. And the only thing that will finally – finally – shut us up for good.

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