Posted by: jhvn | 12/05/2012

Just What Is a Geezer?

I can’t remember when I first heard the word. Was it Dad or one of my Grandpas (all geezers themselves) describing an old guy who was worse off than he was? Somewhere I heard of a man described as “well into his geezerhood”, and I had a pretty good idea of what that meant. So I decided to look up “geezer”in the dictionary – and thereby hangs a tale.

About 40 years ago I had just landed a job at a college and found myself intimidated by all the intellectual types I worked with. In college myself I had gotten good grades, even making Tau Beta Pi. But I had studied electrical engineering, I aced the math courses, and I was speedy with my slide rule (which shows what ancient history I’m describing). But I took few courses in history, literature, philosophy, etc., so I was afraid I’d seem like an uneducated hick by these professors and deans. Not long after I’d gotten this new job, the academic vice president (you can’t get much more up there in academia than Vice President for Academic Affairs.) was expounding about this newly available Oxford English Dictionary, and how he’d enjoyed spending time reading in it. (Maybe he was a dictionary geek like I’d been a math geek.) This new dictionary was available FREE, he said, from the Book of the Month Club – all you had to do was to join the Club and promise to buy 4 books a year. (I wasn’t enough of a geezer then to realize that they were giving this great dictionary away because it didn’t sell, and their warehouse was getting stuffed. Heck I wasn’t even adult enough to know that,) So I joined the Club and got the OED for free, hoping I was also joining the academic club at the college. (Now this geezer knows that those two clubs are not related.)

So just now I lugged the thing upstairs to where I’m writing and looked up ‘geezer’, assuming that this would be the defining moment. There is no hint of where the word came from, except that it’s slang. Here’s what I read: “A term of derision applied to elderly persons, esp. women.” Women! I always assumed that geezerhood was a guy thing!

But wait. Let’s see what a more contemporary dictionary says. Webster’s Ninth New Collegiate Dictionary (1989) says a geezer is “a queer, odd, or eccentric man.” So much for the academic ‘authorities’. What to do? What to think? Then an aha! moment hit me. This is the 21st century; and here this geezer was using 20th century authorities. So on to the net – google, wikipedia, wictionary, facebook, etc. Much fascinating stuff – look for yourself. The Brits use “geezer” for women, and Americans use “‘geezer” for men. So for this geezer, “geezer” is gender neutral.

When I was deep in my adulthood I would have run after more and more ‘authorities’, because it’s important for an adult to live by the rules. Isn’t that what getting from childhood to adulthood is all about – living by the rules that the adults set? But now that I’m into my geezerhood, I’ve discovered that not being just like other people is OK. In fact I’m proud of my uniqueness and eccentricity. So now I’m free to make my own rules – that are right for me, but not necessarily for anyone else.

Geezerhood, then, involves using our experience and insight to appreciate the uniqueness of each individual. Older women who dig that truth and live by it may well be derided by the adults around them; and men who dig that truth will seem queer, odd, or eccentric by the adults. But we geezers can find the rules within ourselves, because of our growing individuation and appreciation of our own uniqueness. So, Geezers, to quote Shakespeare, To Thine Own Self Be True.

© Dec. 2012, John Van Ness


  1. To thine own self is one I learned late in life. I hope that it will instill in me a better use of time and I live at least as long as you and in as good or better physical condition. How do you like being at the low end of my wish for standards?

  2. John, this is a genuine compliment born of a year of intense interaction as a care partner with you and Pat, through the eyes of humor- I learned from your support and encouragement to appreciate my own uniqueness, which, in fact, does put people off sometimes, causing them to see me as odd. You also helped me to surrender more of the lingering fear of human opinion which has caused me great angst throughout my life. So, this is one time a person may rejoice over pre-mature aging induced by your unique style of geezerhood-ness! I am a Tweezer on the road to Geezerhood, but because of your compassion, I enjoy some of the benifits of Geezerhood victory without the accompanying physical aches and pains and forgetful senior moments (at least for my limited season of Tweezerness)! Thank you, John, for mentoring me and helping me find my way through a very awkward and lengthy adolescence reminiscent of Jerry Lewis at his goofy best (of course only Tweezers and Geezers know who Jerry Lewis is!)…R.T.
    P.S. Because of your geezer maturity, I know you can receive my comments with grace and a heart of humor. You invited comments afterall!

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