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Lex maniac

Investigating changes in American English vocabulary over the last 50 years

Tag Archives: communities

age in place

(1980’s | therapese? | “stay put”)

“Age in place” has social and personal dimensions, referring to entire communities or single dwellings that contain upper-middle-aged people who must decide whether or not to move away. When they decide to remain at home or at least in the same town, they age in place. Retirement communities — because they blur the line between home and neighborhood — allow you to do both by moving from your house into an apartment while you can still look after yourself, and then rise through the assisted living ranks as your capacities dwindle. So without leaving the area, you create a new home to live out your life. It seems to me that most of the time when the phrase comes up now, it refers specifically to remaining in one’s own home through one’s retirement years.

Since the eighties, polls have shown consistently that most older people want to stay where they are rather than move away. It was assumed back then that baby boomers would not be content to age in place, but so far they seem to be. The continuing preference for growing old in familiar surroundings probably says more about the nature of the elderly than about demographics or American culture. Or simply the fact that moving is a hell of a lot of disagreeable work. It may be the strength of the roots you’ve put down, or it may just be inertia; either way it adds up to aging in place.

This week’s expressions have some significant forebears, most notably “stay in place” and “run in place.” Aging and sheltering in place capture the same refusal to pull up stakes. If you prefer your prepositions accusative, “snap into place” or “lock into place” are for you (both could function transitively or intransitively). Finally, I can’t help but hear an echo of “rest in peace” when I encounter this expression. Doesn’t matter how long you age in place; some day you’ll rest in peace. In your final resting place.

shelter in place

(1990’s | businese? bureaucratese? | “ride it out,” “hunker down”)

I believe we owe this expression to the good people of West Virginia, or maybe it’s the bad people. Starting in the 1980’s, as far as I can tell, chemical industry spokespersons began introducing the phrase to answer the question, “What do I do if a huge cloud of poison gas is enveloping my house?” A leak or explosion at a chemical plant is a big deal anywhere, and there’s a particularly high density of chemical manufacturing in those parts. The industry representatives were in the awkward position of spending half their time explaining why leaks and explosions couldn’t possibly happen, and the other half explaining what to do when they did. The vast majority of sightings of this phrase, well into the 1990’s, come from West Virginia newspapers or press releases, as far as LexisNexis is concerned. It is very unusual for a new expression to arise so exclusively from a particular state.

“Shelter in place” can be a verb, a noun phrase, or an adjective, as in “shelter-in-place drill.” It means more than just stay in your house and hope for the best. Paul Hill, president of the National Institute for Chemical Studies, put it this way in 1994: “Go inside the nearest structure and into a room with no or few windows. Pets should be brought indoors. A radio or television should be turned to a local Emergency Broadcast Service station for information and directions. If the emergency involves hazardous materials, heating and cooling systems and fans should be turned off, windows and doors should be shut and cracks covered with wet rags or tape. If directions call for protected breathing, the nose and mouth should be covered with a wet cloth. Wait for an ‘all-clear’ signal. In addition, residents should stay calm and stay off the phone.” Nowadays, when the governor tells residents of hurricane-prone beach towns to shelter in place, there’s more emphasis on boarding up windows and lashing everything down, but the idea is the same: retreat into your house and make it as impenetrable as possible, turning it into a temporary fallout shelter. The net result is rather like “lockdown” as it might be practiced in less densely populated areas.

I suppose the cynic in me hears an echo of that lovely expression I learned in my youth, “Bend over backwards and kiss your ass good-bye.” When the authorities tell us to shelter in place, we’re on our own. If it gets bad, we’re stuck.

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