I wrote a quick blurb on this blog on Election Day about the respect I have for poll workers. In it, I said that “I sure am glad there are people in their dotage willing to perform this precious service for the rest of us.”
This prompted a phone call from one of my faithful readers, specifically, my mom (who, for the record, is not in her dotage.) Now, see here: I self-edit my blog. No one else reads what I write until it’s published. It’s a risk, but one I’m willing to take. I wrote “dotage” intending it to mean something along the line of “their later years.” I verified this meaning by asking Microsoft Word for synonyms. It offered the following: “old age,” “advanced age,” “declining years,” “second childhood,” “youth (antonym).” I figured I was good-to-go.
Then I published. Then the phone rang, with my mother laughingly telling me I might want to offer some sort of disclaimer on that entry, since she just looked up “dotage” in the dictionary and that it might have been not quite what I meant to say. So I quickly trot off to TheFreeDictionary.com, and punch in “dotage.” Sure enough, as usual, Mom is right:
A deterioration of mental faculties.
Just for fun, I also went to Webster.com. They say dotage means “a state or period of senile decay marked by decline of mental poise and alertness.”
Now, one handy thing about TheFreeDictionary.com is that on the same page, it also offers thesaurus entries on the same page. There, at least, one does get “old age” and so forth as possibilities. But if the main definition is what is listed above, it seems less-than-helpful to throw “old age” out there as a synonym.
I certainly wasn’t meaning “dotage” as a pejorative. I had no idea it was more closely related to senility than to simple old age, though I will admit that I knew it was a possible definition. But there are lots of words that have multiple definitions, variations on a theme, as it were. In this case, though, it seems like we might want to introduce the dictionary writers to the thesaurus writers.
Although, it did allow my mother and me to share a good laugh, so I guess all’s well that ends well.