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I found a case of using statesman in modifying AOL Inc. in the following sentence of New York Times (February 8). Statesman to me means a leading politician_ and I understand the word here was used figuratively. But the phrase, AOL is the elder statesman of online access sounds somewhat odd to me. Is this standard or within the range of received usage of stateman? What does statesman mean in this case?

Huffington Post, the liberal-leaning online news site that has been one of the Internet's start-up success stories, said it agreed to a $315 million buyout late Sunday night from AOL Inc., the ‘elder statesman’ of online access and digital content.

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So, there's nothing odd to say 'Coca Cola is the elder stateman in the soft drink industry,' 'GM is the elder statesman as a car manufacturer,' 'Tokyo is the elder stateman of cities in Asia? –  Yoichi Oishi Feb 7 '11 at 21:18
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up vote 7 down vote accepted

The phrase elder statesman is an established idiom to refer to "an eminent senior member of a group or organization." It is placed in quotes in the article in order to make it clear that the term is being used somewhat figuratively, in that it does not refer to an actual person; but AOL is indeed one of the oldest remaining players in the field of online access, and as such is accorded a significant measure of respect for having survived so long in such a volatile market.

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The term "elder statesman" in that quote is used figuratively. It just means that AOL is well established in online access and digital content.

This is the same kind of trope as calling George Washington "the father of his country" or saying Osaka is a "sister city" of San Francisco.

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