October 10, 2012
Honey, do these M&Ms make me look old?
It had never occurred to me that candy might be among the things that date a person until the other day when I was munching away on my favorite deadline sugar.
As I strolled through the office, a much younger colleague approached me, paused and fixed her eyes on my little candy bag.
"You're eating M&Ms?" she said. "Nobody eats M&Ms anymore."
If she had said, "Nobody is named Esther anymore," I would have nodded. If she had said, "Nobody is named Mary anymore," I might have understood.
But nobody eats M&Ms?
No, she assured me, they do not; I should not be fooled by the supply in the office candy machine.
There are many things that can date a person, subtle preferences and habits that reveal your ancient vintage no matter how up-to-date you might imagine yourself to be.
A hairstyle can do it. (Please, no nasty email.)
An AOL account. A mustache. Turning down all engagements that start past 9 p.m. Whining that the world was so much better when you were young. Knowing the names of all the Bee Gees and the lyrics to "Hey Hey We're the Monkees."
All of these things can reveal that you were not born yesterday, or 20 years ago, or 40.
Certain words are particularly telltale signs that your expiration date is coming up.
Not long ago, I used the word "slacks" in a story. "Slacks" isn't a word I use in conversation. But I was writing about a college student, and I wanted to make the point that he was dressed in something more staid and less predictable than jeans. I referred to his pants as slacks.
"Slacks?" cawed some guy on a website comment board. "How old are you?"
Let's just say I'm so old that I still eat M&Ms.
The word "slacks" doesn't sound old to me, but I am able to sense the mold growing on some words that I hear or use.
If you still call your favorite musician's new release a "record," you are old.
If you think something's cool and you call it "neat," you are not just old, you're a fuddy-duddy.
If you know what a fuddy-duddy is, you cannot read this print without a magnifying glass.
Some words withstand the battering of time. "Cool" has survived from generation to generation without losing its cool.
"Groovy," on the other hand? I still use it occasionally, always with an ironic twist, though my irony is probably not discernible to a generation too young and groovy for M&Ms.
I also still say the phone rings. But does it, now that the only ringing phones are cellphones with a retro ring tone?
A friend recently mentioned a much older man who gives away his age by saying "marvelous" — a marvelous word that makes a guy sound as old as the great Gatsby. What was once marvelous is now awesome, and even "awesome" is dog-eared after a generation of overuse.
Old-fashioned words aren't the only ones that can make a person seem old. So can hip words and phrases.
Example: "Do me a solid." If you have to ask what that means, please, never say it.
But back to candy.
I still refuse to believe that my M&Ms date me. They are not in the category of Mary Janes, wax lips, Atomic fireballs, candy cigarettes and bubble-gum cigars, all of which I am far too young to remember.
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