Old, Older

Rarely do I achieve revelation while reading freshman papers (unless you count the revelation that I should not sign up to teach freshman composition again), but tonight I did. A student wrote about an “older” man talking to a “young” man, and I wanted him to make those adjectives parallel, probably by going with straight “old.” It was then that I realized the strange quality of our language whereby “older” can actually mean “younger than old.” It’s true! “Mr. Smith is an older gentleman” vs. “Mr. Jones is an old man.” Mr. Jones is actually older than Mr. Smith, right? Isn’t that weird?

p.s. And then I found twenty bucks.

PatrickWords03/01/06 2 comments


Dad • 03/01/06 12:38 PM:

True, “older” is younger than “old,” but I think it more often means “older then you are” or “older than the writer.” So it’s not so much a stand-alone word as it is a contraction of sorts for the longer phrase. Often, for example, we hear of someone dating an “older” woman/man. This clearly means someone more than a few years older than the subject; someone out of the reasonable upper band for age difference in a relationship. I hope I’m not being too captious.

Patrick • 03/02/06 10:14 AM:

You’re right, but those aren’t the only situations where you’d call someone “older” instead of “old.” Sometimes, there’s no direct comparison, and even someone of the same age could, in describing an absent, non-dating third party, say “he’s an older man, maybe in his early fifties” or something like that.

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