What Not to Say

There are several articles on the internet with lists of things that younger people shouldn’t say to older people and vice versa. I’d like to add my two bits.

  • “Old.” We all age at different rates. For example, one seventy-five year old can appear totally decrepit while another can seem as vigorous and youthful as someone half his age. To call both of these individuals “old,” seems downright inaccurate and, frankly, insulting. Let’s mothball “old.”
  • “For your age”–as in “You look good for your age.” This automatically implies that an individual looks like hell when viewed in context of another age group. Not nice. Not nice at all.
  • “Even”–as in “even at your age.” This phrase can be used when addressing an older person or a younger person. Examples: “Even at your age, one can learn to use a computer.” Or, “Even at your age, I knew better than to cross a street with my eyes closed.” The phrase just seems so … needlessly judgmental.
  • “Dear.” This term is also “flexy” in that it can be used to refer to an older or to a younger person. Let’s face it, no sentence ending with “dear” escapes sounding wicked. Examples: “The print is so small. Would you like me to read that for you, dear?” Or, “It ‘s always good to hear fresh new ideas, dear.” You get the idea.

Then, there’s “young man” (or “young woman”).   I have often heard these expressions used by older faculty members in my workplace. Generally, the faculty member is attempting to signify to a younger faculty member that he/she (the older faculty member) has more experience and standing. Example: “Well, that’s certainly a useful insight, young man.” As a commenter at DiversityInc explains, the sole purpose of this expression is to make someone feel too young to be taken seriously. There is absolutely nothing innocuous about this expression.

I’m sure there are loads of other age-related expressions that need to be the subject of a a search and destroy mission. If you can think of any, please write them in the comments section below.


DiversityInc Staff. (2009) Things NEVER to Say to Young Coworkers. Accessed 12 March 2018  at http://www.diversityinc.com/things-not-to-say/things-never-to-say-to-young-coworkers/