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Presbyterian Older Adult Ministry Network points to a fascinating online word study on aging

Pastor and wordsmith the Rev. Dr. Keith Albans of the United Kingdom leads a workshop attended by people from across the globe

by Mike Ferguson | Presbyterian News Service

The Rev. Dr. Keith Albans

LOUISVILLE — The Rev. Dr. Keith Albans, who served 16 years as the Director of Chaplaincy and Spirituality at Methodist Homes in the United Kingdom, is something of a wordsmith. His prodigious abilities were on display Thursday during a University of Waterloo’s Conrad Grebel University College webinar, “It’s How You Say It: Exploring the Language and Imagery of Aging.” The hour-long event was recommended by the Presbyterian Older Adult Ministry Network and was attended by more than 100 people from around the world.

“Why do you want to work with older people?” Albans was asked more than once when he applied for the position at age 43. “It was the highlight of my ministerial career. I have been to a 110th birthday party and thoroughly enjoyed it.”

The use of terms like “justers” and “wasers” describes how many older people speak of themselves, Albans said: “I’m just a housewife” or “I was a chemist” indicates “our entire life is in the past,” he said.

“How we speak of who we are and who we were reflects how we are feeling,” he said.

Then Albans launched into a study of words containing the consecutive letters “age.” He’s uncovered more than 600 words formed from 370 word roots. Some have “age” at the beginning of the word, others in the middle and the rest at the end of the word.

Some — “ageism” and “ageing,” the British spelling — have a negative value, Albans pointed out, while others, including “agelong” and “ageless,” are more affirming.

“Agent” was on the list because “enabling people to be the doer is at the heart of a lot of what we’re trying to achieve,” he said. “Agency” is also a “significant concept.” So is “agenda,” Latin for “the things that must be done,” which Albans called “a positive way of embracing the process of aging” because we “think about what’s important for me and us to do.”

“How important,” Albans asked, “is the notion of agency for your own hopes about aging or for someone you know? Many of today’s older people never expected to live to the age they have. Embracing aging means we can think in a wider and more proactive way.”

“Age” at the end of words is a much more common location. Albans divided them into six categories:

  • Aggregate, such as “courage”
  • Quantity or measure, such as “charge,” “vintage” and “sage”
  • Process, such as “pilgrimage”
  • Outcome, such as “foliage”
  • A place of living or business, such as “cottage” or “garage”
  • Social standing or relationship, such as “heritage”

There are negative examples for each category as well: “sewage,” “shortage,” “rampage” “wreckage,” “orphanage,” and “bondage.”

Albans had about 45 examples of “age” found in the middle of words ranging, as he put it, “from the sublime to the ridiculous”: “cagey,” “magenta,” “pageant,” “dowager,” “wager” and “suffragette.”

Others included “eager,” “menagerie,” “outrageous,” “voyageur,” “tragedy” and “unmanageable.” Many have connections with aging. Eager is keen interest, which “a lot of older people lose without encouragement,” according to Albans. One definition of “menagerie” is “an unusual and varied group of people. I visited a lot of care homes” in his time with Methodist Homes, “and it’s a wonderful word.”

“What do we affirm and what do we reject thinking about how we speak about and depict ageism?” he asked. “Embracing aging means we can be agents of our own aging by having a plan or agenda. The choice is ours, and how we use it is up to us.”

During a question-and-answer session following his talk, Albans was asked what people can do to combat language that’s ageist.

“If we look at ways society has addressed issues around racism, sexism and homophobia, change has only come by calling it out for what it is,” he said. “The difference, of course, is we are talking about ourselves.”

“Some ageism,” he said, “is actually a way of saying, ‘I’m not there yet.’ We have to be honest if we’re calling it out. We may be as guilty ourselves as other people are. That’s why talking about it is helpful. We can plot our own course into later life.”

Citing something she once heard, one person on the call said it this way: “Age is simply the number of years the world has been enjoying you.”

View past POAMN webinars here. Register for upcoming webinars put on by the Conrad Grebel University College’s Spirituality and Aging Program here.


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