Friday, July 10, 2015

Elder or Older, Which One is Grandpa?


The word elder drips with age. It fairly creaks. It is wise and learned. Decades of knowledge, philosophy, joy and sorrow rest within elder’s inferred laudations.

Part of the distinction between elder and older is that elder may only refer to human beings, whereas older is an equal opportunity age descriptor. Some naturalists buck that trend in great ape studies, but their efforts have yet to expand the definition.

Elder in general is giving way to older, and that’s fine. Elder can’t go out alone. It always has to have a noun to modify, and not just any noun. It has to be a group of human beings. Fussy old coot.

Plus, elder sounds a little pretentious. And what is this “humans only” restriction? The bristlecone pine at 5,000 can’t be the eldest tree, but if you’re a first-born teenager, then you’re the eldest of your siblings? Seems egotistical.

That’s the way it is with elder though. It must modify a noun that defines a human group. Elder can function without a noun, but only if the noun is implied. Elder is nice to have, and it connotes respect where respect is due, but its proper use is fairly restricted.