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Retire the Word Retirement



Retiring the Word Retirement

I listen to podcasts while I walk the dog and recently heard two different comments about retirement, not the concept but the word itself.  The podcast was the Ted Radio Hour show on Aging.  One commentator, Dan Buettner,  was describing his research into parts of the world where people live longer on average then the rest of the population. These pockets of longevity included Okinawa.  The researcher notes that in the Okinawan language there is no word for retirement as Americans think of it.  The closest they come is a term, eekeegai ( I apologize for my spelling…it is radio after all…)  that describes “the reason for which you wake up in the morning”. Retirement in that sense is the ultimate reason for being.

A later segment in that same show featured the wonderful Chilean American novelist,  Isabelle Allende. she says that in her native tongue the word for retirement is “jubilation” related to the american term of the same name.  Retirement, her argument went, is something joyous.  It is the time when one has paid his/her  debts to society and can therefore enjoy life; it is a time to be celebrated.

When you think of the English term, it does not quite convey the same import or celebration. Consider the Wikiword definition of retire.  The first entry is the one traditionally associated with work,  “to stop working on a regular basis.” The subsequent definitions are a bit more off putting. They include to withdraw,  to remove from circulation ( e.g. old bank note are retired) , to retreat ( e.g. to retire the regiment),  and to draw back or away — to be aloof. ( he retired to the library.) Then there is my personal favorite, to make a play in baseball which results in the batter being out. This may be the only one that conveys any joy, although the joy would be for  the defensive team only.

In the spirit of creative solutions, perhaps we need a better term to describe the period after “one stops working on a regular basis. ” The encore career notion is gaining traction in some areas, but many people are unfamiliar with it. We seem to be stuck with retirement. Maybe that is why so many (including myself) are flunking retirement.

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