Are you aged or old?

Photo of old copy of As You Like It, featuring a sorry picture of old age. The sixth age shifts/ into the lean and slipper'd pantaloon,/with spectacles on nose and pouch on side;/ His youthful holse, well sav'd, a world too wide/For his shrunk shank; andhisbig manly voice,/turning agan toward childish treble, pipes/And whistles in his hound.  Last scene of all [...]/Is second childishness and mere oblivion;/ Sans teeth, sans eyes, sans taste, sans everything.
A profoundly cynical vignette of old age, in a very old book: All the world’s a stage in As You Like it

I had always thought of the word aged as a hard-to-pronounce synonym for old. Are you aged or old? Doris Carnevali points out the difference, which is mighty interesting.

Old just means having been around for a long time. It applies to anything and everything, animal mineral or vegetable. It is basically a neutral term, although when applied to human beings has accrued some horribly negative connotations. I’m in favour of reclaiming the word old for myself, normalising and neutralising it.

Old is a word that daily grows more vague
and more distasteful for the semi-old.
We dread the word because we dread the fact.

     ~ from "A better word for old" in How To Be Old, by me

I never seriously considered using the word aged as a synonym until I read a post in Engaging With Aging called Thoughts on whether “Old” is different from “Aged.” Retired Professor Carnevali starts with definitions. I’m not sure of the source, but they make sense and the difference instantly jumps out at you:

  • Old: ancient, long-lived, geriatric. long-standing
  • Aged: seasoned, experienced, weathered, matured, mellowed, in full bloom, venerable

She points out that the concept of aging as applied to cheese, wine and musical instruments involves strategy, action, fine-tuning, and improvement. It’s a job for experts. Whereas becoming old… just happens, regardless.

I’m thinking, we humans are passive in the business of getting old: we can’t control time and if we are alive we are getting older by the minute. But if we consider aging-like-a-cheese or aging-like-a-violin, we humans are both active and acted upon. I find this a very satisfying concept.

This is a lovely analogy for engaging with aging as opposed to just getting old. This distinguished centenarian is indeed aging in the best possible sense. For the full picture, do read the blog post and explore her remarkable blog.

An introduction to Engaging With Aging
Follow Write Into Life

28 thoughts on “Are you aged or old?

  1. Prue Densem says:

    Love the distinction! But is there a different tone between saying aged or ag-ed 🤔

    1. Rachel McAlpine says:

      No idea, Prue! But I favour one syllable, if that’s what vintners say–do they?

  2. Sheree says:


    1. Rachel McAlpine says:


    2. Rachel McAlpine says:

      I believe there are younger people out there in the world 😊 Thank you for dropping in!

      1. Sheree says:

        My pleasure Rachel

  3. Nemorino says:

    Now that you ask, I tend to say aged (one syllable) for wine and cheese, but ag-ed (two syllables) for people, cats and dogs.

    1. Rachel McAlpine says:

      That’s my take on it too. So the novelty lies in using one syllable for people.

  4. Two syllables for me – as in Mr Wemmick – Dickens’s Aged P from Great expectations.

    1. Rachel McAlpine says:

      Age-ed is traditional and works in biblical text and iambic pentameter 🙂

  5. Cathy Cade says:

    Not sure if I’ve matured, aged, or gone off…

    1. Rachel McAlpine says:

      Hard to tell with some of those cheeses too.

  6. I think we all grow old if we’re lucky enough, but you have to engage, learn, and work to become aged.

    1. Rachel McAlpine says:

      That’s it! A perfect summary.

  7. Ally Bean says:

    Fascinating. I always say that I’m ‘pre-old,’ which sounds more hopeful to me than saying I’m ‘old.’ BUT I love the idea of being ‘aged’ now that you’ve explained. Which begs the question, am I ‘pre-aged’ now?

    1. Rachel McAlpine says:

      I think Doris Carnevali uses the word pre-aged to refer to people who are chronologically younger than around 70. I’m guessing! Our sense of age is very personal, though, and also comparative. To me, “pre-aged” suggests it happens all at once, whereas aging is (by definition) a long process. You could safely claim to be aging, with this concept. Or self-aging. Or engaging with aging, which could be seen as gung-ho or as quite tentative…

  8. Ingrid Ward says:

    I prefer to call myself ageless…

    1. Rachel McAlpine says:

      Enjoy that mysterious state. And of course you can be both ageless in one sense and aging in another sense.

  9. I worked, in my later working years, for Methodist Homes for the Aged. Pronounced Age-ed when I first started, it changed to Aged after a while and then the title became MHA with various strap lines following the MHA. The current one is MHA – Live Later Life Well. Old People’s Homes became Care Homes or Nursing Homes, Sheltered Housing became Retirement Living, and so it will continue. Further reading here:
    Old I may be. Grown up – never!

    1. Rachel McAlpine says:

      Thanks Peter — people have always resisted using the word “old” and even “aged.” Now I know: we could just say “A”. But in Canada and New Zealand that’s a homonym for “ay” which doesn’t mean aged, but “right?”.

      1. I don’t mind being called old. I rather like the revered term of “elder” and also the way that older ladies in the Indian subcontinent, and elsewhere, are referred to as “Auntie”.

      2. Rachel McAlpine says:

        We have Aunties here too — in patches

  10. granny1947 says:

    I agree.
    Aged sounds might kinder.

  11. cedar51 says:

    And where does “elderly” fit – me thinking of news reports when the journalist says “an elderly lady of (55) was knocked over on a pedestrian crossing” – me thinking at the time the journalist is in his/her 20s!
    Then recently I was presented with some legal papers where apparently I was now “retired”.

    1. Rachel McAlpine says:

      There’s a lot of confusion and I fear there always will be. I mostly see “elderly” used in a medical or care situation, meaning frail old. which to some 20-year-olds means 55!

  12. srbottch says:

    ‘Aged’ sounds so much more distinguished than ‘old’. But there are times when ‘old’ fits the mold: look at that ‘old’ guy go, grumpy ‘old’ man, pretty good for an ‘old’ guy, you can’t be that ‘old’. There are times when I like that moniker attached to me, sort of makes me feel as though I’m getting attention and earning some respect. Yes, both words work for me. Of course, I’m neither ‘aged’ or ‘old’ yet, just having turned 76 last Saturday, trying to catch up to my older and certainly aged sister who won’t allow it 😉. Excellent post!

  13. joared says:

    I think we can be old without being ancient so I have a problem with that definition. I think I’m probably an aged old person at this stage in my life so it’s not either or.

%d bloggers like this: