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The Language of Aging in American Culture.

Announcer: This is an All Ears English podcast Episode 1023: “The Language of Aging in American Culture.”


Announcer: Welcome to the All Ears English Podcast, downloaded more than 50 million times. We believe in Connection NOT Perfection ™, with your American hosts Lindsay McMahon, the ‘English Adventurer’, and Michelle Kaplan, the ‘New York Radio Girl,’ coming to you from Boston and New York City, U.S.A.


Announcer: And to get your transcripts delivered by email every week, go to AllEarsEnglish.com/subscribe.


Announcer: Today, a listener asked us about some high-level words to describe aging.

How can we use “sprightly”, “spry”, “lively” and a bunch of other phrases to describe aging in the U.S. and what does it all mean about our view towards getting older? Find out today.


Michelle: Hey (hi) Lindsay, how are you?

Lindsay: Hey (hi) Michelle, I’m pretty tired. We just spent about two hours last night trying to get this big, huge couch down our apartment building, down our building, down our stairs, and it was so hard, it was so wide.

You know, moving around, and we’re not moving, but we wanted to get a new couch. And it was just such a task in the summer, you know what I mean? Ohh my gosh. So crazy.

Michelle: Ohh my gosh. Yeah (yes). How many floors did you have to move it down?

Lindsay: Two floors, but I live in this old building in Cambridge that, I swear, it’s from, like, the 1900’s or earlier. And, so, naturally, like, everything is small in this building, the winding staircase, the staircases are narrow and everything is tiny, and so there’s this huge oversized couch that we had to get down and I was really struggling. I said, “I’m not doing this, we are hiring movers next time we want to move anything.”

Michelle: There’s a very famous episode of Friends with the scene about getting a couch down the stairs. Have you seen it?

Lindsay: No. Is it funny? I bet it’s funny.

Michelle: Yes, it’s, like, a very, very famous one. I won’t give it away, but maybe I’ll send it to you later. And it’s, like, pretty much exactly that situation.

Lindsay: It was horrible. I bet a lot of our listeners have seen that episode of Friends because Friends is kind of famous, for sure.

Michelle: I bet, I bet. Guys, if you remember an episode where they’re going, “Pivot, pivot!” I don’t want to give it away for Lindsay because I want her to enjoy it. But yeah (yes), let us know if you’ve seen that episode.

Lindsay: The worst experience ever. [laughter]

Michelle: Okay.

Lindsay: It’s funny.

Michelle: So funny. Well, I’m glad it all worked out. I bet it was quite a workout for you.

Lindsay: Yeah (yes), we got it out the door, and luckily, someone came to pick it up right away. So, there we go. Alright, done, moving on.

Michelle: Definitely. Okay, good for you. Wait, so, how are you getting the new couch up the stairs?

Lindsay: That’s the next challenge. [laughter] I don’t know. Apparently, it comes in boxes, like, you know, disassembled, but I’m not sure… The thing is, I’m kind of weak. I don’t lift weights and I don’t have a lot of, a ton of muscle, and I’m not very good, and so I get nervous carrying stuff up the stairs. I’m afraid I’m going to drop something on other people that I’m working with, and that kind of thing. So, we might hire movers, I don’t know. Just for three boxes. I’m not sure.

Michelle: Actually, yeah (yes), the episode is about getting the couch up the stairs, I just realized. But either way, you’re going to enjoy it. Alright. Guys, we are talking about an interesting topic today, and it’s from a question that a listener sent us. I’m so sorry, for some reason, I don’t have the listener’s name. I may have missed it, but it’s a really good question. So, whoever this question is from, thank you for it. So, Lindsay, would you read the question for us?

Lindsay: Yeah (yes). I have a hunch that this might be Kadeer, but I’m not sure. So, if this is Kadeer, thank you for your question. Here we go. So, he or she says, “Hi Lindsay, how’s it going? A huge hello to the All Ears English team and their listeners. I hope everyone is having a bright day, rather than a gloomy one. Without further ado, let’s get to it. Okay. Recently a weird question popped up in my head. It was about saying an older person is not completely old and they still feel energetic and full of life. I made my research and came across three adjectives, ‘sprightly’, ‘spry’ and ‘lively’.

The last one seems too overused and I have kind of become blasé about typing it down all the time.” Great vocabulary.

Michelle: Yeah (yes), ohh my gosh.

Lindsay: Awesome. “I would much appreciate it if you enlighten me as regards to this issue. Thanks so much. P.S. listening to Michelle’s train story I felt so scared being trapped in a train and seeing the blizzard outside. That would make such a theme for a horror short story.” That was way back in the winter. Michelle, you told us a story about getting trapped in an Amtrak train. Right?

Michelle: Yeah (yes), I had to remember. Yes, I did tell that story and that was scary and that was cold. But yeah (yes), thank you for listening, yeah (yes). This is a really, really great question, I think.

Lindsay: Very high level. This student has some really high-level vocabulary.

Michelle: Ohh yeah (yes).

Lindsay: I love that this student is going out and looking for words. I love how he or she used “blasé”, such a good vocabulary word. And yes, let’s get into it, Michelle.

Michelle: Okay, let’s do it. Yeah (yes). So, I mean, I think this is an interesting question, and I think there’s a lot of cultural undertones as well. Because, I think, you know, it just makes me think of, like, age in the U.S. and, like, how, in general, I feel like older people are not really respected as much as in some other countries. What do you think, Lindsay?

Lindsay: Yeah (yes). I mean, that is definitely a thing here. For sure, for sure. We have major problems with, unfortunately, not respecting our elders as much as I know other cultures do that so well. Yeah (yes), we can talk about that in another episode, for sure.

Michelle: For sure.

Lindsay: For sure, yeah (yes).

Michelle: For sure. So, there’s a lot to say there. Yeah (yes), but I think the words that you suggested are great. We’re going to get into the words in a second, but I may not use “sprightly” or “spry” in my personal everyday conversations. I mean, do you use these words, Lindsay?

Lindsay: I don’t, but I do think they are really high-level.

Michelle: They sure are.

Lindsay: And I think some people use them, and I also want to say that if you were to use, Kadeer, if this is Kadeer, I’m not sure who this is.

Michelle: I don’t think it’s Kadeer, but if it is, I’m sorry Kadeer, if it is you.

Lindsay: Okay. Whoever asked this question, if you were to use this, these, any of these words, especially “sprightly” and “spry”, on the IELTS exam, the speaking test or the writing test, yeah (yes), that would distinguish you as a seven-level vocabulary student, for sure. So, it would set you apart from other students. And guys, by the way, if you are getting ready for the IELTS this fall, go over and subscribe to the IELTS Energy podcast. That’s where you want to be to prepare for IELTS with us. Okay? Cool.

Michelle: For sure. Great. Okay, yeah (yes). So, but, yeah (yes), basically, “sprightly”, we looked it up in the dictionary and the definition is marked by a gay lightness and vivacity.

Lindsay: Yeah (yes), and “spry”, so, I have an example. You know, if you’re an older woman, remaining spry is something you aspire to. So, to be nimble, physically nimble, and just being able to move around and just feeling good, feeling, you know. Feeling good, Michelle. Are you aspiring to be this way when you get older?

Michelle: Of course. I think I need to work on it more now, though. If I want to be spry in the future, I got to work on my spryness now.

Lindsay: Yeah (yes), for sure, for sure. You got to work on that, Michelle.

Michelle: Yeah (yes), yeah (yes). And then “lively”, of course. Yeah (yes), you can use “lively”, also a good word. Right?

Lindsay: Yeah (yes), absolutely. Yeah (yes), it’s always nice when you see an older person, an older woman, older man, who is just, you know, spry, just moving around, just feeling good, just lively. Maybe out there playing tennis or golf and energetic and doing things. You know, not sitting around at home as much. So nice.

Michelle: For sure, for sure. Yeah (yes). So, guys, we wanted to teach you a couple other ways to kind of express these ideas. So, we have a few phrases for you today. So, what’s the first one, Lindsay?

Lindsay: So, these are more casual, right?

Michelle: Yeah (yes), ohh yeah (yes), yeah (yes), yeah (yes).

Lindsay: These are more conversational, a little more down to earth, these phrases. I think that “sprightly” and spry are, like we said, they’re articulate and they’re high-level, but not everyone uses them. Right?

Yeah (yes). So, here are some others that other people might use. So, “still got it”.

Michelle: Yeah (yes).

Lindsay: “Still got it”, “He’s still got it, she’s still got it.” What does that mean?

Michelle: Yeah (yes), well, I mean, I think this one’s used pretty frequently. And it’s about, you know, someone who may seem like they are, like, maybe they’ve changed, maybe they’ve aged, or they’ve gone through, like, you know, some sort of physical change, something like that. But then they actually haven’t changed, and they can still be the way they used to be.

Right? So, I think that’s why we say the word “still”. So, for example, you could say, “My grandma takes yoga classes and Zumba every day. She’s still got it. She was always into fitness.”

Lindsay: For sure, and this could also be used for a specific skill that they had.

Michelle: Right .

Lindsay: Like, if someone played tennis when they were, you know, in their younger years as an adult, and then they start playing tournaments at 70 or something. Right? “Ohh, she’s out on the tennis court, she’s still got it.” Meaning she’s still got the tennis skills. Right?

Michelle: Exactly, exactly. So, that’s a good one. So, what’s the next one, Lindsay?


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Lindsay: So “in great shape for his or her age”, “to be in great shape”.

Michelle: Right. So, this one I think is more about, like, this is, I think more strictly about physical shape. That’s what I think, that’s how I would use it. But, I mean, you could say someone’s mind is in great shape. But yeah (yes), but you can also add on “for his or her age”, but I don’t know, I think that could be offensive. What do you think, Lindsay, if you say that?

Lindsay: If you say “is in great shape”?

Michelle: If you’re, like, “He’s in great shape for his age.”

Lindsay: Yeah (yes), certainly a lot of it would depend on the tone of voice there at that moment. Not always would it be rude, I think, but occasionally it could be, if you say it in the wrong way, with the wrong tone. It’s so contextual. Right? Like, what else have you said before that? Have you been making little, like, rude comments before that, or have you been praising the person? You know what I mean? It depends so much. Yeah (yes).

Michelle: Right, right, right, right. So, you could add that on, but you’d have to, you know, think about it. So, for example, you could say, “He’s in great shape for his age. He looks fantastic.”

Lindsay: Yeah (yes), yeah (yes), I love that. Okay.

Michelle: So, that’s another one. So, the next one is using the word “sharp” to describe someone’s mind. So, his or her mind is sharp. Right, Lindsay?

Lindsay: Yeah (yes), yeah (yes), yeah (yes).

Michelle: So, how might somebody use that?

Lindsay: So, “Her mind is sharp, even though she’s ninety. I think it helps that she always does crossword puzzles.” For sure. Always using the mind, creating new neural pathways. Right?

Michelle: Right, right, right, exactly. Yeah (yes), would you say this, Lindsay, in a conversation?

Lindsay: Yeah (yes), for sure I would. Yeah (yes), these are conversational, whereas the “sprightly” and “spry”, they’re actually, they’re really high-level. I really like those words. I think they’re good. They’re just a little less common, just because they are kind of high-level and articulate, but you want to mix it up. Right? We want these casual phrases and we want the higher-level words as well.

Michelle: Right. I think it depends on the time and the place. Like, if I was… I think “spry”, I think “sprightly”, if somebody was having a conversation with me and they said the word “sprightly” that I might be a little bit, like, “Ohh, that’s a different word.” I think “spry” I wouldn’t think that much about, but I think “sprightly” sounds just like a little bit too high-level for a regular conversation. But I think, like you mentioned, IELTS and if you’re with, like, an older crowd or you’re doing academic writing or something like that, those might be good.

Lindsay: Yeah (yes), yeah (yes). You have to read your crowd. And sometimes it’s just fun to throw in a really high-level word. It’s just fun to be articulate with these new words to try. So, I think a big mix. You know? A big mix, just try different things, guys.

Michelle: Sure, why not? Go for it. Yeah (yes), I think I agree. Yeah (yes). So, okay, and then we have the last one, is “with it”.

Lindsay: Yeah (yes).

Michelle: “With it”. Okay, so, this makes me think of, like, someone who’s cool, either, like, just being cool, like, “I’m with it.” Right? Or just being, like, or maybe about your mind, like, being, like, still able to function or know a lot about something. Right, Lindsay?

Lindsay: For sure, for sure. You know, here’s an example. “My grandpa is so cool.”

Is this – is this your grandfather specifically, Michelle?

Michelle: No, no.

Lindsay: Okay. “My grandpa is so cool. He’s really with it, actually, and he knows more about pop culture than I do.”

Michelle: Okay, yeah (yes). He’s with it. Yeah (yes), it makes me think of someone who’s cool, they know a lot of what’s going on. So, this one makes me think more of, like, the mind than physical.

Lindsay: Yeah (yes), I like that, I like that.

Michelle: Or you could say, like, “Even though, like, she’s aging, she’s still with it.”

You know, kind of like the crossword puzzle example, you could use it.

Lindsay: Yeah (yes), that’s good, that’s good. Cool. So, do we have a role play for our listeners today?

Michelle: We do. So, Lindsay, we are aging in the role play.

Lindsay: Ohh my gosh.

Michelle: We are old ladies.

Lindsay: I never thought it would happen.

Michelle: So, we are retired, and we are chatting about, you know, just our lives.

Lindsay: Okay.

Michelle: If you want to put on an old lady voice. No, it’s okay.

Lindsay: No.

Michelle: [laughter] Just joking.

Lindsay: I’m bad at voices. I’ll just be myself. Alright. “How are you, Michelle?”

Michelle: “I’m good, I’m good. Still hiking, Lindsay?”

Lindsay: “Yes, actually. I’ve still got it.”

Michelle: “That’s great. You’re in great shape, I can see.”

Lindsay: “Thanks. How’s your friend Stacy?”

Michelle: “She’s great, thanks. Her mind is sharp, even though she was sick. We were worried, but she’s actually really with it. She still sees all the latest films.”

Lindsay: “I’m really glad to hear that.” Okay.

Michelle: Okay.

Lindsay: Yeah (yes), for sure. So, interesting, yeah (yes). So, this could be used, actually, for people who are elderly to talk about themselves and their peers, also commonly used for their families. Right? So, the younger generation, like an adult child, would say that about their elderly parent, “still with it”. Right?

Michelle: Right, right.

Lindsay: “Mind is sharp”, that kind of thing. Yeah (yes).

Michelle: Right, right, right, exactly. Here we go. So, let’s go through it. So, what’s the first thing? So, I said, “Still hiking, Lindsay?” and you said?

Lindsay: “Yeah (yes), I’ve still got it.”

Michelle: Right, right, right. And then I said, “You’re in great shape, I can see.”

Lindsay: And then we talked about your friend Stacy and we said, “Her mind is sharp, even though she was sick.”

Michelle: Right, right. I also said, “She’s actually really with it. She still sees all the latest films.”

Lindsay: Yes, cool. So, she’s up to date and she’s mentally there.

Michelle: Definitely, yeah (yes). So, these are some other phrases, additional phrases, that you can use. What’s the takeaway for today, Lindsay?

Lindsay: Yeah (yes), I mean, actually, you had a thought today, Michelle, for the takeaway. Why don’t you share that? Because you actually, yeah (yes), you had something.

Michelle: I have a thought. Sure. I mean, I think it’s interesting that these phrases are about not losing something. Right? To still have something, like that word “still” is like, you know, in there, “still got it” or you know, it’s used like a qualifier. Right? So, you’re in great shape, or you’re in great shape for your age, or you could even say you’re still in great shape or something like that. I don’t know. I guess I was thinking that I wish our language was, like, a little bit more positive and our culture about older people. Like we said, we can talk about that at another time.

Lindsay: Yeah (yes).

Michelle: Yeah (yes), I think that, in general, like, there should be, I don’t know, more of a positive spin on these things. I mean, a lot of them are positive, but, like, I wish there were different ways to… Like, I don’t know. You know what I mean?

Lindsay: Yeah (yes), I know what you mean and I agree with you. I think that other cultures do a much better job of having the cultural assumption that older people, elderly people, have this incredible wisdom. Right? That’s what they gain, they gain this wisdom. It’s not so much about, “You still have it.” Right? “You’ve still got it, your mind is still sharp.” It’s not about what you might hang onto from younger years. It’s about what you gain when you’re older that other younger people don’t have, this wisdom, this dignity. Right? So, I think other cultures do a much better job of this, and I wish we did. And I wish I knew how to change that about our culture, Michelle.

Michelle: Yeah (yes). I do, too. I think it’s really too bad. But, you know. Whatever.

Lindsay: We’re youth-obsessed, we’re obsessed with youth and beauty, we equate beauty with youth, and it’s about marketing, it’s about business, it’s about money. I think that’s where it comes from. You know what I mean?

Michelle: Yeah (yes), yeah (yes).

Lindsay: I don’t know, I don’t know. Maybe that will change in the future. Who knows? But it’s nice to travel and to see that, those differences. And we’d love to hear from you guys. If you come back to our blog, come back to AllEarsEnglish.com/episodes, type in 1023 in the search bar, and tell us your thoughts on how your culture treats elderly people and what phrases are used. Obviously translate them into English, but what are the phrases that are used to talk about and to talk to older people? We can learn so much from the language.

Michelle: I think so too, yeah (yes). I was just saying that would be really interesting.

Like, I wonder if the phrases are similar, or if this idea of, like, not losing something is the same, like, in other phrases and other languages, or if it’s kind of like a different viewpoint in this language.

Lindsay: More about gaining something. Right, exactly. Yeah (yes), love it. Okay, so interesting. I feel like we could do a follow-up episode if you guys contribute your ideas to the blog, we could maybe share some of your ideas, and we could compare, we could go deeper into this. For sure.

Michelle: That’d be really interesting.

Lindsay: It’s an important part of our culture. Yeah (yes). Okay, cool. Alright, Michelle, this is good. Guys, remember, I mentioned earlier, if you’re taking the IELTS, go over and hit subscribe on IELTS Energy podcast from AllEarsEnglish.com. Make sure you get your tips and tricks for your seven or higher. Cool.

Michelle: Alright. Awesome. Well, thanks for that question, and thanks for hanging out today, Lindsay.

Lindsay: Okay, Michelle, great episode. Thanks. Take care.

Michelle: Thanks. Bye.

Lindsay: Bye.


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