Remember Lewis Carroll’s poem, You are old, Father William, from Alice in Wonderland? Here’s the ever-wonderful They might be giants to jog your memory.
Nowadays, at least in the research world, Aged Bill is no longer just old. He is either young old, middle old or old old.
We discovered this when proofreading a paper on the elderly and falls for the Department of Public Health Sciences at the Karolinska Institute. Thanks to the greying of society, greater life expectancy and a far larger number of senior citizens, old is far too imprecise a term. Old age is now divided up into the three categories mentioned above. In Europe the subgroups are divided as follows: young old (60 to 69 years), the middle old (70 to 79 years), and the very old (80 years and older). In the USA, that land of eternal youth, young old starts at 65 and you aren’t old old until you reach 85.
It’s not just among the elderly that new sub-groups are developing. Until the 1950s there were children and adults. Then along came teenagers, adolescents empowered by post-war affluence and the widespread availability (at least in the USA) of cars in which they could go courting. No more dinner at home in the parlour with the parents for young couples. Now there’s a new group: tweenagers. Pre-adolescent children aged 10 – 13. In Kulturhuset, Stockholm they even have their own section of the libary: Tio – tretton. No adults or kids of other ages admitted.
What would Shakespeare make of all this? In his As you like it there is a wonderful speech about the Seven Ages of Man.
We can still recognise the schoolboy “creeping like snail unwillingly to school.” But the Bard would need to add at least four or five new ages to make the speech reflect our times.