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There are people who behave like the stereotypical old woman who frets over the smallest concern and is constantly cautioning others about physical dangers. Such people can be either sex and barely middle-aged.

They always click on buy travel insurance when booking an airticket, they regard a ladder as akin to a 5.14 climb. They are obsessed with germs. They are uncomfortable beyond the confines of a 4- star hotel. They set up absurd procedures "in case anything happens" (I don't mean writing a will). They cancel their indoor tennis game if there is one inch of snow on the ground. The males make an enormous deal out of a broken leg.

Maybe they are mainly women, and maybe they are middle-aged or older, but is there another term (phrase, expression or word), one that is gender neutral?

They can be very nice people, but they are dismissable as "old women". Even I do it in my mind (never out loud) and I don't like that in myself.

There are/have been many great old women — Jane Goodall, for example, and Golda Meir and many others — and there will be more as people retain physical and mental strength deeper into old age. But there will still be a phrase needed for the "timid, over-cautious, dithery, person whose overriding goal is safety. I'd like a gentle term that could be used with humor but that will rachet down the twittering and fluttering whenever a competent person starts to do something that makes them nervous.

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I think it would be old person – PyRulez Jan 24 at 0:20
"The males make an enormous deal out of a broken leg." - you mean that they cancel their tennis game? Again? – Erwin Bolwidt Jan 24 at 3:28
@Erwin Bolwidt They cancel their ski trip, even though their wife is perfectly able to ski and they could après ski all day. It's the airport ... too hard to navigate the airport. Wah! – ab2 Jan 24 at 4:04
You're asking for a gentle and respectful term but there's nothing in your post that suggest you share some sympathy for them, it's quite a scathing report of people who are no longer in their prime, and a very short-sighted one, too. – Mari-Lou A Jan 25 at 9:14
@Mari-LouA Most of these people are younger than I am by 15 to 20 years, so no, I don't have much sympathy for a middle-aged person in good health who thinks hanging a bird feeder is a dangerous occupation. – ab2 Jan 25 at 12:29
up vote 7 down vote accepted

If you want to characterize their fears as excessively focused on unlikely issues, you could call them a worrywart:

: a person who worries too much or who worries about things that are not important m-w.com

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Really good. Can be said dismissively, but with humor. – ab2 Jan 24 at 0:07
Definitely gender-neutral. – ab2 Jan 28 at 21:01

My generation tends to call this type of person an old fogey (instead of old man or old woman), plural old fogeys.

I can't do better than Word-Detective.com, so here's a post from that site that explains perfectly:

"Fogey," of course, is, as the Oxford English Dictionary puts it so well, "a disrespectful appellation for a man advanced in life, especially one with antiquated notions; an old-fashioned fellow." The word (also spelled "fogy," by the way) is probably Scottish in origin, but its ultimate roots are a bit uncertain. It's possible that "fogey" is based on an antiquated sense of "foggy," which meant "moss-covered," but my favorite theory traces it to the Scottish word "foggie," meaning a kind of brown bumblebee.

"Fogey" is almost always preceded by the slightly redundant "old," but there are, indeed, "young fogeys." The term is most often used to refer to a group of young but conservative writers and novelists in England who came to prominence in the early 1980s. The novelist and critic A.N. Wilson is probably the "young fogey" most widely known to Americans.

Maybe it's my own age showing, but the term "fogey" doesn't seem quite as pejorative to me as it used to -- my sense is that it is getting harder to pin down exactly where good taste leaves off and "fogeyness" begins. I would like to think that one doesn't have to be an "old fogey" or even a "young fogey" to object to "tabloid TV," "shock radio" and the popular fascination with "supermodels" which seem to have supplanted what was left of American culture, but I may be wrong. Maybe I'm a some sort of fogey after all. There are worse fates.


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This a great deal of what I want....it doesn't have the element of physical timidity, not only for oneself but for everyone else....(the ladder as a technical climb) ,but it has the great virtue that I could get away with calling someone an old fogey if I did it with good humor. – ab2 Jan 24 at 0:05

It depends how much you are wanting to point and make fun.

Over-anxious perhaps?

The over-anxious always click on "buy travel insurance" when booking a ticket.

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Good! I don't want to ridicule, I want them to stop assuming I will kill myself just because they would if they did what I am doing. – ab2 Jan 24 at 0:09

You could refer to these apprehensive persons as nervous Nellies (or the singular nervous Nelly), Merriam-Webster defines the term

plural nervous Nellies

a timid or worrisome person
many new parents are nervous Nellies when it comes to the health of their babies

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Apt. I think some of them never get over the motherhood phase of their lives. – ab2 Jan 25 at 20:28

finicky is kinder and gentler, I think.

excessively particular or fastidious; difficult to please; fussy.


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+1 but maybe too kind. Finiky and dithering are indeed traits of old women, but I am looking for something that brings out the idiotically wimpy aspect, but is not horribly rude. – ab2 Jan 23 at 20:27
@ab2: Oh, so, you mean, like, something ironic? (Since the sarcastic words are too harsh ... not subtle enough?) – Ricky Jan 23 at 20:32
Yes, a term one can say that can be either insulting or playful depending on tone. Calling someone an old woman is always insulting. Sad, but true. – ab2 Jan 23 at 21:01
@ab2: .... Cleopatra? – Ricky Jan 23 at 21:44

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