by Neva Bodin
“Will this be okay, Dear?” The young man indicated a booth in my favorite restaurant for my out-of-town friend and me.
“Fine,” I gritted out through my teeth. I had liked him just a second before. He was around twenty, tall, fair skinned and dressed in business slacks and shirt. Before he was done seating us, he had called me “Dear” three times. That really got my goat.
It appears the term “get your goat,” meaning making someone annoyed or angry, comes from probably unknown origins. It began appearing in writings in the early 1900’s.
One popular story originates from the practice of putting goats with race horses to keep them calm. If someone wanted to cause a race horse distress, they would steal the goat.
In the Bible, goats are mentioned as gifts, sacrifices, and as bad people in Matthew 25:33. However, my grandchildren raise and show goats at the fair, and they are loveable, curious, and fun-loving creatures, (the grandchildren as well as the goats.)
So I take a little offense when the Bible says Jesus will separate the goats from the sheep, with the goats being on the left and not welcomed into the kingdom of God! (I also know people who would be incensed at being called a sheep which they consider a dumb animal.)
Was I being a goat (when I let this young man get my goat) when I took offense at being called “Dear?” Waitresses and waiters started calling me endearing names, like “Honey, Sweetie, and Darling” after I turned 65 or so. I’m a nurse by calling and profession. We were instructed not to call others, especially those older than us, by such patronizing terms.
I have polled many of my friends who have the same incensed reaction to these terms. So what should I do?
An article in the New York Times in 2008, speaks to this issue, “Professionals call it elderspeak, the sweetly belittling form of address that has always rankled older people…” http://www.nytimes.com/2008/10/07/us/07aging.html?_r=0)
They quote Elvira Nagle, then 83, of Dublin, CA as saying, “People think they’re being nice, but when I hear it, it raises my hackles.”
The article goes on to say that studies find insults can have health consequences. Insults can lead to a negative self-image says Becca Levy, an associate professor of epidemiology and psychology at Yale University, and this can lead to shortened survival rates.
“In a long-term survey of 660 people over age 50 in a small Ohio town, published in 2002, Dr. Levy and her fellow researchers found that those who had positive perceptions of aging lived an average of 7.5 years longer, a bigger increase than that associated with exercising or not smoking. The findings held up even when the researchers controlled for differences in the participants’ health conditions.” http://www.visionaware.org/blog/visionaware-blog/whats-so-wrong-with-elderspeak-anyway-answer-everything/12 This article also states, “People in their seventies and above are so often addressed in nursery language that researchers have a word for this type of hypocorisma: elderspeak.” As I sat with my sister who is in a nursing home, I heard her called “Honey, Sweetie and Darling” almost all in one sentence by a nursing assistant.
I feel bad for being so hypersensitive about this issue, and perhaps my training that definitely listed this “elderspeak” as a no-no has something to do with it. But I find I’m not alone in my peeve. Any other thoughts?