The oldest living former X

Sometimes we can’t have nice things, just because the nice thing is difficult to state clearly in words.

For example, the record low daily high temperature for this date is arguably just as meaningful as the record high daily high. But the weatherman never tells us the record low high, probably because it would confuse our tiny brains.

I recently read that the oldest living (former) major league baseball player had died. (Again.)

And I thought: I honestly don’t understand why I should care about “oldest living [former] X” titles. The oldest living people are bound to be the “oldest living [former] X” for a myriad different values of X. If you’re one of the oldest living people, that is something to celebrate. But also being the “oldest living WWII veteran”, or “oldest living [former] Olympic athlete”, or “oldest living [former] accountant”, is just not interesting to me. Keep in mind that some of these titleholders could theoretically lose their title without dying. Someone older could be hired as an accountant tomorrow.

What is interesting is the “living person who has been a [former] X for the longest”. I.e. it’s not interesting if you’re the oldest living [former] major league baseball player; but it’s interesting if you started playing longer ago than any other living person. I find this concept to be easy to understand intuitively, but hard to state clearly.

Participants in a particular historical event are a slightly special case, because such a group can gain no new members. Being the youngest living WWII veteran is mildly interesting, if only because you might be one of the last ones left alive. Being the oldest is still not particularly interesting, though at least in this case you can’t lose your title without dying.

When the last living person who played a Munchkin in the Wizard of Oz died, some news outlets actually reported that the oldest living Munchkin had died. Just out of habit, I guess. It’s technically true, but completely misses the point.

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