Empty nests fill up again
Called “boomerangers” or “adultolescents,” more adults are moving back to their parents’ homes. To make it work, both parties agree on the importance of mutually accepting house rules.
from The Sun (Baltimore, Maryland) – 9th June 2002
A blend of adult and adolescent, the noun adultescent denotes an adult who has retained the interests, behaviour or lifestyle of adolescence.
The Oxford English Dictionary (3rd edition – 2009) believes that it originated as a marketing term because the earliest instance that it has recorded is from Precision Marketing of 17th June 1996:
Consider the importance of adultescents to the music biz—they make up over a third of the audience at gigs, but have more cash to spend than teenagers.
But I have discovered that the word had already been used, more casually, by Glenn Hasselrooth in his column Fan Fare in the Eugene Register-Guard (Eugene, Oregon) of 2nd September 1945; in his list of twenty types of “pests at the movies” was:
The Adultescent. Here we have the type, found among all ages, whose mind hovers in the difficult and disillusioned period between adolescence and adulthood. He doesn’t like anything, doesn’t believe in anything, plays Doubting Thomas about everything which happens on the screen, usually has a low set of values. His snorts of disbelief and derision are frequent, and his expressions of amusement are of the exhibitionist variety.
In his column It’s a Great Life, in The News-Herald (Franklin and Oil City, Pennsylvania) of 25th January 1949, Clare Swisher reflected upon his own adultescence:
Why I am taking you into my confidence, I’ll never know, but today marks another anniversary of my birth. Happy birthday to me.
It’s a wonder to me I’m saying a word about it. I am, you see, in that critical early fortyish period when most humans become terribly sensitive about their age.
The world worries about its adolescents, but I say there is twice as much dynamite in the Adultescent group. It is we who are fumbling with life. We don’t consider ourselves old; and goodness knows we are no longer young. We are neither fish nor fry. After all the adolescent, despite his trials and fears, still has youth ahead of him. He is looking forward to manhood. Or to womanhood, as the case may be. Alas, not so the Adultescent. Nobody looks forward to the debilities incident to advancing years.
Like others in this most trying period of life’s course, I grow strangely silent when the talk at parties turns to age. Secretly I like to think I look younger than I actually am, and I fool myself into believing that now and then I get away with it. It is self delusion of the stupidest sort, but like millions of others I engage in it.
Mostly, I reckon, we Adultescents are more scared than hurt. We nurse morbid thoughts of falling apart at the seams, of losing our jobs and sex appeal, and of the increased personal problems that inevitably come with age. It’s what hasn’t happened already that scares us. We get panicky when it occurs to us that the future offers only baldness, false teeth, wrinkles, and bifocals. Some of the worry warts don’t stop there. They suspect they have heart trouble, cancer, or diabetes, and that they’ll die a lingering death. Others are gnawed with the fear that their old age pension checks won’t be sufficient for sustaining them in a style to which they are accustomed.
This Adultescent softness of the head brings out some silly behavior. Never have I worn such gay togs as I do now; and several times lately I’ve thought maybe I should start getting a massage during each visit to the barber-shop for a haircut. I suspect what I really need is a haircut on the face and a massage on my dopey head. Now and then I’ve caught myself comparing recent photographs to pictures taken 15 or 20 years ago. Each time, quite naturally, I conclude that I am more photogenic with increased maturity. Haw, haw, haw.
Oh, well, anyhow it’s my birthday, and, although I simply had to confide in somebody, I wish you wouldn’t breath it to a soul. Chances are that I’ll live to a ripe old age if I don’t die laughing at myself the day I wise up to the futility of Adultescent antics.
The earliest occurrence of the noun adultescence (absent from the Oxford English Dictionary) that I have found is jocular; it is from The Courier-Journal (Louisville, Kentucky) of 14th April 1967:
Young Movie Fan Puts Governor in Quandary
Frankfort, Ky. (AP)—A young film fan has posed a brain teaser for Gov. Edward T. Breathitt.
“I am 14,” wrote Jim Dyer of Lexington to the governor. “I go to the movies almost every weekend, and I have to pay the adult price.”
But, Jim complained, he is not allowed to see adult movies. He added:
“I think if I have to pay adult prices then I should be able to see adult movies. Please tell me what you think about it.”
The governor’s office said Breathitt has held the letter for eight days because no one is quite sure how to answer the young fan.
The Age (Melbourne, Victoria, Australia) of 1st October 1998 published an article titled The power of your Inner Granny, by Anna Watson, which thus begins:
With the rise of Grey Power and Middle Youth, you won’t be able to behave like an old person when you’re old, so why not do it when you’re young?
What has happened to youth? There used to be that brilliantly hedonistic period when you’d finished being teenage, had started earning your own money, but not yet started reproducing (nor caused anyone else to do so). This stage of your life was intended for going out and having a very fine time involving as much sex and drugs as your finances would allow. But age has got all mixed up lately: 10-year-olds are dealing drugs, grandmothers are having babies and the media is full of 30 and 40-year-olds talking about Middle Youth and Adultescence. So what the hell are we supposed to do in our 20s?
According to John Ezard in his review of Guinness Amazing Future (Guinness Publishing), in The Guardian (London) of 31st March 1999, the words adultescent and adulescent have different meanings:
Sober English dictionaries, though not yet written in cyberstyle,* already fight to record the newest trendy phrases of the present day.
But today Guinness Publishing goes one better by compiling a handbook of buzzwords and techno-babble which will fall from the lips of tomorrow’s teenagers.
Today’s young middle-aged trendies are unlikely to mature with age, the book says. Two years ago the Oxford English Dictionary recorded “adultescent” – “a 30-35-old who has interests typically associated with youth culture”. By 2020 Guinness expects this generation to have turned into “adulescents” – old people addicted to youth culture.
Yesterday the firm said its forecasts were not wild guesses. “We found all the phrases we list already being used in magazines and other specialised fields which affect our lifestyle,” said a spokesman, Jon Cunningham. “We expect them to spread into general use as such phrases do.”
*Cyberstyle – “general writing style in cyberspace. Features include abbreviations, acronyms and little attention to grammar”.
Those and other words correspond to specific social realities. For instance, on 31st May 2002, The Philadelphia Inquirer (Philadelphia, Pennsylvania) published ‘Boomerangers’ size up their old bedrooms, in which Margie Fishman, aged 24, who had moved back home in January, wrote:
According to the latest U.S. Census figures, I am one of the millions of “boomerangers” or “adultolescents,” as we have been called, back living with mom and dad because of a tight job market, rising student debt, and the high cost of starter homes.
In Grow Up? Not So Fast, published in Time (New York, N.Y.) on 24th January 2005, Lev Grossman wrote:
Everybody knows a few of them — full-grown men and women who still live with their parents, who dress and talk and party as they did in their teens, hopping from job to job and date to date, having fun but seemingly going nowhere. Ten years ago, we might have called them Generation X, or slackers, but those labels don’t quite fit anymore. This isn’t just a trend, a temporary fad or a generational hiccup. This is a much larger phenomenon, of a different kind and a different order.
Social scientists are starting to realize that a permanent shift has taken place in the way we live our lives. In the past, people moved from childhood to adolescence and from adolescence to adulthood, but today there is a new, intermediate phase along the way. The years from 18 until 25 and even beyond have become a distinct and separate life stage, a strange, transitional never-never land between adolescence and adulthood in which people stall for a few extra years, putting off the iron cage of adult responsibility that constantly threatens to crash down on them. They’re betwixt and between. You could call them twixters.
The sociologists, psychologists, economists and others who study this age group have many names for this new phase of life — “youthhood,” “adultescence” — and they call people in their 20s “kidults” and “boomerang kids,” none of which have quite stuck. Terri Apter, a psychologist at the University of Cambridge in England and the author of The Myth of Maturity, calls them “thresholders.”
A blend of kid and adult, kidult originally denoted a television programme intended to appeal to both children and adults. The earliest instance that I have found is from The Philadelphia Inquirer (Philadelphia, Pennsylvania) of 11th July 1956:
New word being used by West Coast telefilm-makers—“kidult”—refers to shows aimed at both adults and youngsters.