Mary in Alexandria, Virginia, wonders when words like senior and senior citizen came to mean “elderly.” Senior comes from Latin senex, “old,” the source also of Senate and senile. In the 1930s, a politician helped popularize the expression senior citizen as a more appealing term than elderly. Less successful euphemisms proposed for describing older people include vintage and perennial. Having reached the age of 82, Mary prefers to call herself middle old.

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