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I wonder what some nice words are to describe a very old age of a person?

I guess directly using the word "(very) old" may be interpreted as being impolite, such as following:

Are you saying your grandma still has grandparents? They must be very old.

So I am looking for an alternative but nice way to show my surprise on the age.

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This is a hard one, because in most English-using societies youth is valued over old age quite highly. This means that any term that implies an advanced age is going to offend someone who doesn't like to think of themselves in that way. –  T.E.D. Sep 13 '11 at 21:21
    
@T.E.D.: Do you mean that when applying for technical jobs, older people severely suffer from age discrimination? That is really bad. –  Tim Sep 13 '11 at 21:41
    
I didn't mean to say that specifically, but you could certainly infer it (and I probably wouldn't argue the point). I meant "value" in general. –  T.E.D. Sep 13 '11 at 23:22
    
Chronologically enhanced. –  Mitch Sep 23 '11 at 22:18
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7 Answers 7

up vote 1 down vote accepted

One can use locutions that are oblique, seeming not to directly state the case, like:

advanced in years

Also, there are words for people who have attaind a particular decade:

octogenarian

nonagenarian

and for over a hundred

centenarian

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Thanks! Is senior a proper word in the case I gave? I.e. "the grandparents of her grandma are very senior." –  Tim Sep 13 '11 at 18:18
    
Senior by itself is good for just plain old. Modifying it by very somehow just doesn't sound right, even though it fits the other concerns: 'very old', doesn't sound as impolite/blunt as 'very old'. –  Mitch Sep 13 '11 at 19:50
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would "venerable" work in this context?

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Describing someone as "aged" or "elderly" is a relatively neutral way of indicating age, and one description which may even ring positive would be to describe them as being of a "ripe old age".

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The person can be called seasoned or advanced in years.

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You might say they are long in the tooth which is a slightly nicer way of saying "old".

Alternatively you could talk about long life as a more positive way of referring to old age (although I'm struggling to think of a good example of doing this), or do away with talk about age altogether and say something like "How amazing to have five generations of your family together at the same time!"

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Not nice. Originally applied to horses. –  mickeyf Oct 3 '11 at 22:37
    
Sometimes being likened to a horse is a good thing, @mickeyf. –  Waggers Oct 4 '11 at 6:14
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It depends on the age. No normal person over, say, 80 can be offended by being called old.

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The "technical" word I would use is "geriatric."

Another word I would use is "senescent."

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That's not "nice" though. –  simchona Sep 14 '11 at 2:58
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