In today’s On Language column, William Safire is taken to task for having referred to Harrison Ford, 64, as “middle-aged.” A reader points out, “If he were literally middle-aged, then he could expect to live to 128.” I’m reminded of my 36th birthday, when my mother called with good wishes and to welcome me to middle-age, because the life expectancy for American men was 72. Like Safire’s reader, Mom’s a realist that way.
Despite Mom’s early start, I’ve only been referring to myself as “middle-aged” for about 3 or 4 years. However, my mom turns 67 today and it still doesn’t quite feel right to refer to such an active, vibrant woman as “elderly” either. In his column, Safire mulls “pre-golden” and “pre-elderly” for folks like Harrison Ford and my mother, but tosses them out in favor of “midlife”. That doesn’t quite feel right. Ford and my mother are not “midlfe”. My mom has two middle-aged children, worked for 30 years in the public school system, and lives in a house that she’s paid off. That doesn’t feel very “mid” anything.
My ex could technically request a senior discount ticket at the movies (although he rather die than ask), still, I’d call him “middle-aged”. I guess we’re all just kidding ourselves.