Monday, February 3, 2014

Childing and the Oldaged

I've always thought it strange that parent is a verb while child is not. You can transform it into an adjective. You can act childish, look childish, and want childish things. Meanwhile, adults can attend parenting classes, read parenting books, and practice their parenting skills on their children.
Today I found this article on vocabulary. Parent was rarely used as a verb before the 1980's, and when it was used, it referred to conceiving a child, not raising one. I wish I could find what prompted this change. When did the role of a parent become so powerful that it needed its own verb? To parent is to teach someone how to eat, how to dress, how to think, how to live. Absolutely anything a mother or father does can fit inside that tiny word.
But child? To child doesn't mean to love, to honor, to obey, to serve. A child doesn't mean anything.
Now let's look at teenager. This term didn't even exist until the 1940's, though the adjective teen-aged dates back to 1922. Note the hyphen. Words like co-pilot and e-mail lost their hyphens as we became more familiar with them.
I hate hyphens. Especially on touch screens because you have to switch keyboards. Last November, I made the conscious decision to stop using them in relation to age. "A seventeen-year-old girl was shot today." Are they really necessary? We can tell just by reading this sentence that old and seventeen are both attached to the year. We don't need a hyphen to bridge them.
In the case of teen-aged, teen is just an adjective. Like middle-aged. Old-aged. Not that those get hyphenated very often. They aren't run together either. "The middleaged man picked up a parenting book from Barnes and Noble." "The toddleraged girls loved their oldaged teachers." Just seeing these words on a screen looks weird, and autocorrect agrees.
If you're an adult, it doesn't matter if you're oldaged or middleaged. Calling a child youngaged is redundant. But if you're between twelve and nineteen your number sets you apart.
That's how it works in English, at least. When I took Spanish in eighth grade, I was shocked to learn there's no word for teenager. You can be a chica-young girl-but that's not tied to a number. Spanish just doesn't count like that. Thirteen, fourteen, fifteen, sixteen, seventeen, eighteen. Once, doce, trece, catorce, quince, dieciseis, diecesiete, dieciocho, diecinuevo. There's no pattern.
Up until the 1940's, we were simply young men and young women. In same ways it's nice to have a label. It's easier to find clothes, books, music, and movies specially made for us. To craft our own identities. But it's also another way to isolate us from other age groups. Our identity is a band of numbers.

No comments:

Post a Comment