Dublin - The word appeared on page 14 of the book. The minute I saw it, I had a bet with myself that the writer was in his sixties. Because “salubrious” belongs to that age cohort.
It means “health-giving”, “wholesome” or “pleasant”.
But because it’s rarely, if ever, used by someone under 50, I was betting on a certainty that the author of the book in which it appeared was older than that.
The blurb on the back flap of Spillover, a book by David Quammen on animal infections leading to human pandemics, didn’t give his age, but Google did. He’s 64.
Language is more of a giveaway than wrinkles when it comes to age. That’s the bad news. The worse news is that a facelift is effective at removing some of the evidence of passing time, but nobody has yet invented a language facelift.
Older people speak a different language to that of their children and grandchildren, and that very fact serves to confirm their age.
Using outdated language can evoke responses ranging from impatience to condemnation.
When an older person talks about “itinerants”, for example, they may actually assume that it’s the correct term, since that’s what it was in their time.
Since then, however, the rule has taken hold that you call people by whatever they call themselves. And travellers assuredly don’t call themselves “itinerants”, any more than gay people call themselves “homosexuals”.
If you decide you’re not going to play by that rule, and describe it as “political correctness”, that, too, defines you as elderly, in attitude, if not in actual age.
It’s all about choice. And circumstance. If someone retires – or can retire – in their sixties, they can use whatever language they like. If someone doesn’t or can’t retire at the same age, they may need to update the way they communicate.
Retired or unretired, it’s worth avoiding some of the Seven Deadly Sins of Ageing Communication:
1 I Always Say...
At any age, this is the trademark of the bore. Where’s the virtue in quoting yourself? You’re not Mark Twain. And, let’s face it; if whatever you’re always saying was effective any of the previous times you said it, why would you have to repeat it, now?
2 I have to say...
Another old bore trademark. You have to say? No, you don’t. Indeed, the odd thing about this phrase is that it’s invariably used to introduce an opinion for which the speaker hasn’t been asked. If they want you to say something, they’ll ask you. If they haven’t, silence is a great option.
3 Taking “how are you” literally
Older people get sicker with more ailments, frequently all together, than younger people do.
So, since the last time you met the person who asks after your health, you may have had flu, shingles, cataract surgery, a hip replaced or a stent put in.
If the person asking after your health is as old as you are, they may genuinely be interested in every stitch and setback and quote from the consultant. (“He said he’d never seen one as big or inflamed.”)
If they’re not, the phrase to use is “Couldn’t be better”. Or “Fine”. It’s a greeting, remember, not a literal health check.
4 My mother always used to say...
The odd thing about older people quoting their parents is that what they quote is nearly always a God-awful cliche.
You don’t often hear someone quoting their mother to the effect that Freud’s failure to repudiate the rape/hysteria theory was lamentable.
Nope – when mothers are quoted, they’re saying teeth-grindingly prissy stuff like: “You take care of the pennies, the pounds will take care of themselves” or “When you’re baking, clean as you go”.
Fathers are quoted less than mothers. Not sure what that tells us about either.
5 Claiming that “it never did me any harm”
Could be chastisement with a belt or a wooden spoon, or any other vigorous approach taken to child development in the past.
It doesn’t matter – the person who’s older than their years will happily announce that the results from their point of view were neutral to positive.
Most people present are too kind to say: “Ya think? It’s not possible that it actually turned you into the twisted and thoroughly nasty bag of goods we all avoid?”
Their silence reinforces the speaker’s conviction.
6 Saying “there’s nothing in the paper these days”
The minute you find yourself wanting to say this, think of it as a little red light going on in your head, warning you about mental withdrawal from current events.
The more you engage, the more you learn – whether it’s the name of the shopping mall in Kenya where the massacre happened or the name of the president of Egypt – the more positive will your ageing be.
7 Admitting that you can’t set the TV player to record
Ask your grandchild to teach you and sign off on your new skill. Then both of you will have something to be proud of. – Irish Independent