Let’s all become Chellers

‘Seniors’ have long experienced a problem with the terminology surrounding older people. All of the existing words are either insufficiently descriptive, lacking in inclusivity or imbued with pejorative connotations. Every conversation about seniors soon turns to who we are talking about and what responses are appropriate to various segments of the senior population.

Seniors are defined in many ways according to the context – those over about 50 or so in the workplace, those above 55 for superannuation purposes, 60 for eligibility for a Seniors Card, around 65-70 for pension purposes and so on. References to Third Aged people generally ignore the existence of their Fourth Aged compatriots. Terms such as older people, the aged, mature aged, the elderly, the aged and infirm, even grandparents, all carry a strong connotation of conservative or decrepit old folks in their Fourth Age, dependent on the community, waiting for a bed ion a nursing home, or worse. Even the term ‘ageing’ is misleading because we all start ageing at birth. The great majority of ‘older people’ are vigorous, vital and active, cogent contributors to all facets of modern society, many still working in key positions or filling demanding voluntary roles, growing our economy and supporting our institutions (and our younger people): certainly not deserving of the derogatory implications in most of our ‘ageing’ nomenclature. There are problems with every descriptive term we now use: older people? A 5-year-old is older than a 4-year old. Mature people are rarely ‘ripe’ and many would not like to be referred to as staid. Baby Boomers? What name for those born on 31 December 1945 or 1 January 1965? The Third Age and Fourth Age are not defined and are transitionary at best.

Many attempts have been made to soften the opprobrium associated with ageing. For example, Over 50 and Active Retirement have been used to characterise younger seniors as, was the term Third Age a few years ago – except so few people differentiate it from the Fourth Age. This nomenclature also begs the question as to what ‘Retirement’ is in the 21st Century. Baby Boomers defines quite a narrow segment of the population and within the next year or two, the older Gen-Xers (and not too much later, Gen-Yers) will also be Over Fifties and part of the ‘ageing community’ – as if they aren’t already ageing. Active Ageing seems to be gaining currency over Positive Ageing, but both ignore the question of ‘what are the intended limits of ageing?

I recently came across a description that seems to reflect a more generic, inclusive and non-pejorative connotation of older people – the Second Half of Life – and I would like to see this adopted across the entire community as the preferred term for people who are no longer as young as they were, probably around 50-plus.

We still need to differentiate groups of people within the broad ambit of seniors – because the community response needs to reflect the services they need – or don’t need. At present, public policy is focussed almost entirely on supporting Fourth-agers: after all, it is easy to count and cost the number of Meals on Wheels delivered to people in need. It is much more difficult to quantify the public resources saved as a result of an investment that keeps older people fit and active, contributing to the community, avoiding depression or suicide, deferring high-cost medical and other support, and so on.

As important as it is to differentiate groups within the seniors community, it is important to adopt a new term that describes the whole ageing population more appropriately: one that does not alienate younger seniors. I therefore propose adoption of the term the Second Half of Life.

I accept that the phrase may not roll off many tongues comfortably, but it could, and probably would, quickly be acronymised to 2HL and its individuals as 2HLers. If this caught on, I could imagine 2-Aitch-Ellers becoming corrupted to 2-Ay-Chellers and possibly later to simply ‘chellers’ – but whatever it is, we need a new term and I like that one.

Some of us have already started using 2HL and 2HLers in a variety of contexts and we hope that it will fall fairly quickly into common use as a means of describing older people in more generic terms – equally applicable to Baby Boomers, Third Agers, Fourth Agers, Mature Agers, Seniors, Older Persons/People and so on. In the very near future, it will also refer to Gen-Xers and by the early 2030s, Gen-Yers, ad infinitum.

Let’s start a movement – just a very modest one – to invent a new word – Chellers.

Written by

Lindsay Doig

Views expressed in this article are the personal views of the author.


Third Age: Don’t panic, it’s just another stage of life

When my internet goes down, stay away from me.

I become a maniac. It creates a special kind of anxiety of which I knew nothing before the days of my beloved laptops. I remember each laptop as people remember their dead pets. And my early ones, not to mention the telephone services that sustained them, were as dependable as a politician’s promise.

I’d never have managed if my computer blokes, Darryl and Rob, had not lived close and were always there for the stuttering, distressed victim of early internet mania. Some friends gave up on the internet because of these early experiences. Others became stronger for it, learning quickly that the only constant is perpetual change. I just got better laptops and worse internet anxiety. That is the difference between young and old internet users. The young take the internet for granted. The old see it as a miracle and fear its loss.

Under stress of internet loss recently, I made a silly mistake about the workings of my car air conditioning switch. I have made similar mistakes in the past, even in my youth, and after a bit of a blush, shrugged them off. This time, despite kind words from the mechanic, I feared that I was not on top of my game anymore.

For this I have to thank the media for all their Armageddon stories about how just around the corner is an “avalanche” of demented old things. Past age 65, we become like rabbits in a spotlight, ever fearful that the D word will be aimed at us. We may lose confidence, though there is nothing wrong with us. We may see nothing but a downward spiral to becoming half-joke, half-pest to our families.

Because of ageing population panic, you can expect sly looks around you if you lose a pencil. The rate of dementia is not increasing, but panic stories about it are.

It has increased in those with controlling temperaments, such as politicians and their advisers, a tendency to remove things from the lives of the old: their houses, their driving licenses, their ability to maintain their simple lives within the constraints of fixed incomes. The latest discussion of toll roads is just one which has left out of account what such might mean to pensioners. Only the abolition of compulsory age-based testing for drivers has given me some hope of a turnaround in thinking.

Cue for some constructive stories, without the old stereotypes, about the interesting things that, say, Domiciliary Care does in the community to help old people sustain their lives at home, about more imaginative housing and health solutions, about improved attitudes to what is just another stage of life. Self-doubt engendered by dementia hysteria can be crippling. It can ruin our precious years.

What do we do? Not sure, but now my internet is fixed I might find the answer.


Authors details:

Written by Shirley Stott Despoja. Reproduced with Shirley’s permission. The column was first published  in the Adelaide Review.

Shirley’s Third Age columns appear in  The Adelaide Review and The Melbourne Review each month.

Wanted: A Wonderful Word For Us

I am searching for a word. No dementia jokes please. A word: glamorous, rich, evocative, that we can appropriate to give old age a better tint. Just as Gays did, and forever improved the image and the language. We need something to distinguish us, for example, as the last generation that experienced life in the home without computers, while being the generation that helped the invention to reach its present sophisticated state.

The man who invented the mouse, Douglas Engelbart, died only last year at the age of 88. I wonder if, in his later years, any patronising young git asked him if he knew what a mouse was.

I was thrilled to see that my generation’s intimacy and expertise with computers were recognised by The Guardian UK in December when it asked actor Sheila Hancock, aged 80, to give advice on online privacy and security. She brought to bear on the subject of privacy her earlier life experience: “I grew up in a generation where we kept things private, where a letter was a lovely little very private thing that arrived. Suddenly we can send messages that could misfire, that anybody can see.

My grandchildren have a completely different attitude to privacy, but I feel I have to assume that everybody can see what I am doing on the web.” (“Spot on,” said the security expert who worked with The Guardian on the Snowden stories. )

Is there a word that describes people with this sort of applied, hands-on knowledge of life – all aspects of life – who happen to be 80-ish? Who are live wires, contributors to life and the gaiety, song and dance of it? Elderly will not do.

‘Elderly’ has a shakiness about it, don’t you think? As though the frail person thus described might expire if the word ‘old’ were used to her or his face. I use it to get the electricity back on or the phone fixed. That is, when I am not in actual view. But I couldn’t use it face-to-face. I would find it impossible to talk face-to-face with someone whom I knew thought I was elderly. When the word ‘frail’ came up in a discussion about one of my bones, I made the rheumatologist erase it from his Dictaphone-thingy. He obliged. Good chap.

‘Senior’ is in wide use; very popular in public service sort of communications. It seems to confer some privilege, but we know it doesn’t. It makes me feel like a Girl Guide, responsible but not powerful or glam.

“Oldster” is terrible. Don’t even go there. Makes me feel I should have four wheels. ‘Ageing’ is ridiculous. As though we all aren’t. It does have a certain levelling quality though. Like hats that make everyone look middle aged. Except those saucers that women fashionably wear to the races or royal weddings. They make women look demented. We don’t want that association. Ageing is used for people who are old, but its connotation is ‘actively crumbling’. It will not do.

‘Old’ is okay: Old English, but no glamour. Even old objects have to be called ‘antiques’ to become interesting. Perhaps it could acquire jollier associations in its archaic form ‘olden.’ Would I mind being an olden if the image were brushed up a bit? Olden has some mystery to it. Elder is not bad, but it has a hierarchical ring.

There is work to be done here. Some good spinning: quite useful if it makes us feel valued and takes account of our wisdom and all-round attractiveness. It will come.

Meanwhile I take enormous satisfaction from the SA government’s decision to abandon annual compulsory medical tests for drivers aged 70 and over. Victoria, which doesn’t have age-based testing, helped to show SA the way. There was no evidence that such tests lowered crash rates. They just made us feel bad.

I liked what Health and Ageing Minister Jack Snelling had to say, no doubt advised by some oldens (getting to like it better?) and elders: “People are living longer and fuller lives and we need to have more relevant policies that do not discriminate by age and support our older population.”

So there. When I was young we would have added for the benefit of those who say bad things about olden/senior/drivers: “Put that in your pipe and smoke it.”

These days we know that even put-downs shouldn’t be smoked. But it’s an excellent blow to discrimination. All the ‘buts’ have been considered and chased out the door. Old people, call them what you like, are as responsible as any in the community. And when we find the proper word for us, it will be evident to all. Perhaps ‘majority’?

Just joking. Oldens do that.


Authors details:


Written by Shirley Stott Despoja. Reproduced with Shirley’s permission. The column was first published  in the Adelaide Review.

Shirley’s Third Age columns appear in  The Adelaide Review and The Melbourne Review each month.