The young fall over, older people ‘have a fall’ - and my stepmother is none too happy about it | Zoe Williams

She broke both her knees after tripping on her way back from the shops. But it is the terminology that is really getting her down

I had just neatly and painfully removed half a fingernail with a mandoline, and was in the middle of a spirited discussion with Mr Z about whether one adult can ban another from using kitchen equipment, when my stepmother texted. She’s a relentless looker on the bright side, and the bright side was that she hadn’t lost any teeth. “And my face is fine,” she continued. Softly, softly catchee information, where people like this are concerned. It was ages before I found out what had actually happened – which was that she had tripped on the way back from the shops, broken both her knees and spent a night in hospital.

Huh. I wrote a piece about breaking bones in later life, I told her. The way to prevent it is to go back three decades and supplement your aerobic fitness regime with strength training. I was trying to make her explode with indignation; I thought it would take her mind off things. But she just replied with a mild: “Probably.” I guess she was on a lot of painkillers.

It’s the terminology that’s getting her down. When a young person falls over, they “fell over”, or more commonly “FOWT” (fell over while texting). Over 70 and you’ve “had a fall”. The nurses audibly describe patients as “breakfasted” when they have had breakfast, she says. It sounds quite cute, though, doesn’t it? A bit bucolic, as if they are little lambs. Nope, apparently this is not cute. She used to hate the word “sprightly”, but now it’s been so rudely, suddenly excised from her CV that she has changed her mind. Someone in her notes calls her “quite alert for her age”. I find this difficult to believe – call her “quite alert” if you like, doc, but I’d love to see you try to give her the wrong change.

“If only you were deaf and shortsighted, you wouldn’t even know any of this and you could concentrate on mending your patellas,” I offered. “Whereas your hearing is perfect and your eyesight spookily good.”

“Well, if we’re looking on the bright side,” she said, “imagine falling on your face and not losing even a single tooth.”

• Zoe Williams is a Guardian columnist

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Zoe Williams

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