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I am not a native english speaker and I am not sure if a I made a mistake using this sentence. My intention when I used this sentence was to make a compliment for a person who is much better than me in something (and older than me too) and I will want to reach the skill of this person someday. So, I commented:

When I grow up, I want to be like you.

And the person replied:

Ha! Looks like you may have a few more years before you catch up to me, little whipper-snapper!

As a non native english speaker, I was confused because of the last expression whipper-snapper.

Now, I don't know if I was offensive and get a rude reply. Or I was polite and get a rude reply. Or the conversation was normal...

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2 Answers 2

up vote 10 down vote accepted

It is impossible to answer this definitely without knowing a great deal more about the relationship between you and your interlocutor, but this may be what happened here:

You addressed him with a statement which is ordinarily used by children (and quite young children, at that) to adults they admire. In effect, you adopted the role of a child.

He took this to be intended as a jest, and “played up” to your initiative by assuming the role you assigned him: he responded as an adult (and a particularly elderly adult) would to a child, employing an indulgent and perhaps patronizing tone and the stock language of a stock 1930s or 1940s grandfather.

The word whippersnapper is particularly dated; I cannot believe it has been used otherwise than ironically since the early 1960s. I think for most Americans my age it is indelibly associated with Walter Brennan, the character actor who played the cranky but good-hearted Grampa Amos McCoy on the television program The Real McCoys (1957-63). enter image description hereGoogle Ngrams (which doesn't handle hyphenated words well, so I've used the unhyphenated spelling)

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Helped a lot! To complement my context, I used this sentence after a great achievement by the interlocutor. I was amazed in that moment and I said the sentence. Maybe I mixed up my admiration with my objectives to reach the same achievement. –  Ricardo Giaviti Mar 20 at 1:36
    
@RicardoGiaviti Then I think it even more likely that his response reflected his pride in his achievement and his gratification at your tribute to it. –  StoneyB Mar 20 at 1:41
    
@RicardoGiaviti only children "grow up." I also think it's a little weird to tell someone you want to "be like them." Maybe "play tennis as well as you," "study hard like you," but as a matter of whole character it's weird, as an adult. –  AAA Sep 30 at 8:41

"When I grow up, I want to be like you." This is used by a child to indicate they like the adult and respect them highly. Usually the adult takes it as a high compliment.

If you're not a child then it could seem sarcastic to say that as you are already grown up. This is confirmed by his reaction (highly likely it was a man). To be called a whipper-snapper is not necessarily offensive, but it's certainly not a compliment. He probably thinks you are somewhat too aggressive and is trying to trim you a bit. Don't take it as an offense but be a little more cautious in the future.

Definition of whipper-snapper: a young and inexperienced person considered to be presumptuous or overconfident.

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