There is a Spanish joke,

Ella es mi amiga vieja, disculpe, mi vieja amiga.

The joke basically says, "She is my friend that is old, excuse me, my old friend", making fun of the person's age. Would there be a way to translate this into English?
Of course, saying something like "She is my friend old..." doesn't work in English, though the joke does also work in languages like French. The translation I wrote may be considered to work, but I was looking for something smoother.

Edit: my attempt:

She is my old af friend, I mean my extremely old friend, I mean my old pal.

  • 1
    It’s difficult to see why you are asking this question if you understand that the linguistic feature of Romance languages on which this joke depends does not exist in English. All you are left with is a joke dependant on the fact that a word can have two meanings, of which there are abundance in English. But that has nothing to do with the Spanish example.
    – David
    Commented Aug 13, 2023 at 16:33
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    I wasn't sure there isn't a parallel possible in English, maybe I was forgetting something, hence why I appeared here. English has a lot of exceptions, and will borrow from other languages, like when ESL speakers use something like their native grammar, and eventually it becomes part of common English.
    – user485424
    Commented Aug 13, 2023 at 16:36
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    Comments tidied up. If you have an answer, please write an answer, not a comment.
    – Andrew Leach
    Commented Aug 14, 2023 at 11:48

10 Answers 10


In British English, I think one would actually double down on the joke, thus making it absurd and therefore more obviously a joke:

She is my old friend, and I've known her for ages as well.

An "old friend" is not an elderly friend; it's a fixed phrase meaning a friend of long standing. The second half of the joke sentence is what changes that fixed meaning into the elderly meaning: it's a type of garden-pathing.

This may rely on the famously dry British sense of humour. I don't believe there is a direct equivalent of the OP's phrase in British English, because British humour doesn't work the same way.

  • 38
    @David The joke is that when you first hear "old friend", you assume the meaning "someone I've known for ages"; but then the "as well" suggests a contrast between the two clauses, forcing you to re-analyse "old friend" with a different meaning, probably "friend who is of advanced age".
    – IMSoP
    Commented Aug 13, 2023 at 18:14
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    Apparently, this can also be called a "paraprosdokian", but "garden-path sentence" is considerably easier to spell and pronounce!
    – IMSoP
    Commented Aug 13, 2023 at 18:16
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    Works in American humor just fine Commented Aug 13, 2023 at 20:16
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    This would also work in American English. Commented Aug 14, 2023 at 13:52
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    This is similar to the old "I just flew in from <x>, and boy! are my arms tired" joke.
    – Barmar
    Commented Aug 14, 2023 at 14:19

At the opposite end of the spectrum from the doubling-down on the joke that Andrew Leach offered is a kind of doubling where perhaps only the look on your face, or your delivery, would let the listener know, or wonder, if you were making a joke. In English, we often double the adjective as a way of saying "very [adjective]":

She's an old, old friend of mine.

That could be understood to mean "I've known her for a very long time" or "She's old, and I've known her for a long time".

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    Intonation here helps as well. Emphasizing the two "old"s equally makes this about the length of the friendship, only. Emphasizing the second old, and/or drawing out the word, faux-accidentally emphasizes her age.
    – Kirt
    Commented Aug 13, 2023 at 21:48
  • @Kirt agree about the need for intonation, but I'd emphasize the first "old", and remove the comma: She's an old old friend of mine.
    – RonJohn
    Commented Aug 14, 2023 at 0:15
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    Emphasizing either old draws attention to the two senses of the word.
    – TimR
    Commented Aug 14, 2023 at 0:57
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    @TimR I think that emphasizing the second old just makes it seem like the friend is just very old (as if you befriended her later in her life), not that she's an old friend who is also old.
    – RonJohn
    Commented Aug 14, 2023 at 1:35
  • @RonJohn Putting the stress on the first, to me, carries the meaning as well, but plays it straight - as if you meant to call her old, rather than fake-accidentally calling her old as the joke. YMMV. I expect a lot depends on the delivery.
    – Kirt
    Commented Aug 14, 2023 at 5:13

Putting the same adjective old after the noun friend does not work. The syntactic switch is not generative in the way it is in French or Spanish. So you may have to rely on another element of language like a similar word to represent the joke.

For instance,

She is my elderly friend; excuse me, my old friend.

You could also use partial omission to lead a hearer to think you're saying she's an old one and then adjust:

She is an old ... excuse me, an old friend.



This is my old-lady friend, excuse me, my old lady-friend, I mean, my old friend and fine lady ...

This is even funnier than in Spanish, because the second rewording not only still implies that she is old, but also has a sexual implication ("old lady-friend" implying "elderly girlfriend") and the third "save" is awkward enough to make it all seem ridiculous.

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    The chance of pulling that joke off (especially if English is not your native language) seems extremely slim. Commented Aug 14, 2023 at 20:25

I'm a bit confused by these comments.

What is wrong with ''This is my old friend: sorry, she's not that old''?

It seems like everyone is over-complicating this with esoteric wordplay or attempts at a direct translation when there exists a simple version in English which is also common, which uses repetition of the word 'old' and which isn't reliant on tone of voice or delivery.

I have never heard some of the other answers in my life although there might be a big age difference in the people posting responses.

  • Other answers attempted to retain the humor, which yours does not. While humor is subjective, the more successful ones are either subverting your expectations or indicating that the speaker is slyly pretending not to have meant the more derisive meaning, while implying that both are true. Commented Aug 14, 2023 at 21:28
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    You're definitely over-thinking this. Can you explain how my answer doesn't have the same humor: I have seen it used on comedy shows and panel shows in the UK many times to get laughs. When translating, you usually can't capture everything from the original and shouldn't try to make a direct translation of every aspect as it ends up being muddled. Commented Aug 15, 2023 at 12:43
  • Shrug, not sure how it can be overthinking to have scanned through the answers, chuckled at Andrew's but not yours. Try out your "X, oops, not X" formula vs "X... and X-like-Y" formula at the next party/bar/family reunion and see how it goes. :) Commented Aug 15, 2023 at 16:35

"This is Jill, my friend, who is very old. Wash your mouth out ... I mean, this is Jill, who is my very old friend."

Here, 'old friend' is non-intersective. Compare 'heavy smoker', 'beautiful dancer' [default sense]. 'Small elephant'.


Works better when spoken, but "She is my old friend, sorry, I mean my old friend"

If you put stress on the first old with a slight pause(?) between old and friend, it sounds more like she is an elderly person, whereas a faster "old friend" sounds more like a friend of long time.


I think I'd highlight the ambiguity by swapping around the intended meanings:

She's my old friend — my very, very old friend.

The first part would usually be interpreted as a long-standing friend. Then the second part subverts it (which is where the humour comes), suggesting that the sentence instead refers to the friend's age — but the exaggeration simultaneously suggests that it's not meant literally.

(Obviously, I wouldn't say this about someone I didn't know well enough to know they'd take it in fun.)

Although the form is similar to Andrew Leach's answer, I think this one is slightly more subtle and off-hand — you wouldn't expect a rim-shot or a laugh after it, for example.

  • If you want something less subtle, you could say something like "She's my old friend — and I mean old!" or "— and boy, is she old!" Phrased this way it has a sort of Borscht-Belt comedian vibe to it and almost requires a rimshot after the line. Commented Aug 14, 2023 at 14:06
  • @MichaelSeifert Why would you want something less subtle? — Ah, I see from your profile that you're in America…
    – gidds
    Commented Aug 14, 2023 at 14:16
  • Personally I like Andrew Leach's option best, but I figured it would be good to give the OP a range of possibilities. Commented Aug 14, 2023 at 14:26
  • This is way too complicated and reliant on exactly how you say it, I am a bit confused by these answers. Commented Aug 14, 2023 at 20:15
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    @HollisWilliams: Aren't most jokes pretty reliant on how you say them? Commented Aug 15, 2023 at 17:14

She is old, err, I mean she is my old friend."

A direct option relying on attempting to correct bad grammar quickly, as "She is old friend" could still be understood as "She is my old friend", but correcting the phrase instead of finishing it leads to calling her old directly. the "my" could be emphasized.

A second option would be

She is old, friend... Err, I mean she is my old friend"

In this example, the speaker was trying to refer to both her and the listener as a friend ("She is my old friend, friend."), and corrects themselves by completing the statement about her correctly, and abandoning referring to the listener as a friend.

"my" could be replaced with "an" in any example.


FYI, the original joke is said in the Argentinian telenovela Floricienta, by the antagonist's mom, to a protagonist-side woman, where there is a history between them concerning a man.

To be close to a word swap like the original, we can have like,

"She is my exceptionally old friend, excuse me, my old exceptional friend."


"She is my especially old friend, excuse me, my old special friend."

Maybe people will think of more like that.

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