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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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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 '14 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 '14 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. – djechlin Sep 30 '14 at 8:41
As an addendum: "whippersnapper" initially was intended to be a word with negative connotations. However, because it is so unusual, its negative connotations carry less weight than usual. It is easy for someone to use tone of voice to use it fondly instead. – Cort Ammon Dec 6 '14 at 21:22

"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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