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I am trying to find a word which describes someone who is both old and wise. I would like the word to describe someone who is extremely frail and infirm. It might also have the connotation that their counsel is odd or hard to follow, even if it is sound advice.

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closed as too localized by FumbleFingers, cornbread ninja 麵包忍者, Jasper Loy, Mehper C. Palavuzlar, simchona Aug 8 '12 at 14:32

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Too Localised. It's bad enough to ask for a word that means both old and wise (so far as I'm concerned, wise invariably implies old anyway). But to ask that this word should also imply physical frailty and quirkiness seems to me to be stretching things a bit too far. –  FumbleFingers Aug 7 '12 at 21:49
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@FumbleFingers Sorry, I couldn't find any "Too Localised" close option, so instead I thought I'd answer the poor fellow best as I could. –  tchrist Aug 7 '12 at 22:07
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At the risk (certainty?) of sounding conceited, the correct answer would be "me". (Sorry, I just couldn't resist). –  Jerry Coffin Aug 8 '12 at 7:40
    
@FumbleFingers - I don't think wise implies old at all; it's just that they are correlated. Wisdom is to intelligence as strategy is to tactics; intelligence helps you do something, but wisdom helps you know what's worth doing. Often you learn that via regret, but you could learn by listening to the wise. Also, I agree that cramming all that into one word is a stretch; the best I think you could do is allude to such a character: "He's like the Miyagi of programming." –  Nathan Long Aug 8 '12 at 12:26

5 Answers 5

up vote 16 down vote accepted

The closest word I can think of is "sage", which seems to connote someone who is both old and wise.

In certain contexts, it might also be possible to use "patriarch" or "elder", which both imply wisdom or age, but these words add some political connotations that may or may not be desirable.

I'm not sure if there exists a word that includes quirkiness, too. If you don't mind using semi-proper names (in a somewhat more metaphorical sense), you could use "einstein", "oz", or "yoda". These can be probably be used as common nouns, but they may be too strongly tied with the original individuals the words come from.

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I am trying to find a word which describes someone who is both old and wise.

The word you are looking for is venerable, which per the OED is:

Commanding veneration or respect by reason of age combined with high personal character and dignity of appearance; having an impressive appearance in virtue of years and personal qualities.

Even if that is not quite exactly what you are looking for, then you should be able to find related terms easily enough.

Regarding the other aspect you asked about, that the advice be odd or difficult to follow, you might start with Delphic. The OED gives one sense for this as "oracular, of the obscure and ambiguous nature of the responses of the Delphic oracle", and provides as a citation the following:

This reads rather like a Delphic response.

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Even if I ninja'ed him, his answer is must more complete. +1. –  rsegal Aug 7 '12 at 22:01
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I agree this is the best in keeping both implications most fully. –  Jon Hanna Aug 7 '12 at 22:04
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Venerable is certainly "compatible" with OP's requested frail. But for me at least it's a very bad fit with quirky, because it usually implies august and/or dignified. –  FumbleFingers Aug 7 '12 at 22:16

The term doyen is often used to convey some of those characteristics. According to Merriam Webster:

a : the senior member of a body or group b : a person considered to be knowledgeable or uniquely skilled as a result of long experience in some field of endeavor

Often this term is used with "the" to indicate the most knowledgable or skilled person in a field. According to the Compact Oxford English Dictionary:

the most respected or prominent person in a particular field

This term probably does not convey frail, infirm or quirky.

SUPPLEMENT: Another possibility is a phrase, not a single word. The term ancient one connotes both age and respect, maybe wisdom, especially when used as an address, and has a feeling of frailty. I still don't think it conveys quirky, though.

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Doyen as in poetry? –  Noah Aug 8 '12 at 1:38
    
@Noah - Not sure about poetry. Per American Heritage (and others) derivation is from Old French doien, from Late Latin decnus, chief of ten ; see dean. –  bib Aug 8 '12 at 1:42

Venerable? (No quirkiness) Wizened? (No quirkiness) Sensei? (In its English usage, anyway.)

My guess is that you could swing it with two words, but you wont find one that completely covers it.

Since you're looking for a single word, I assume you're writing something and not trying to explain it in conversation. If so, I'd say make up a word that sounds right, and tell the reader that it means or has as connotations all the above things.

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Wyrd may be a choice. Though it is often associated with witches.

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You mean wyrd the obsolete spelling of the noun weird? The one that has amongst its sense "One pretending or supposed to have the power to foresee and to control future events; a witch or wizard, a soothsayer." per the OED? –  tchrist Aug 7 '12 at 22:11

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