Some adjectives--for example: new, old, bad, good—may have two meanings, one of which taken separately, may or may not deny the other, for example:

Old: of long duration (not new), and attained an advanced age

New: not of long duration; having just (or relatively recently) come into being or been made or acquired or discovered, and other than the former one

Good: of moral excellence, and with or in a close or intimate relationship

Bad: capable of harming, and characterized by wickedness or immorality

More generally, the question is this:

Can a noun be modified by the same two adjectives that, taken separately, have different meanings, the other meaning is capable of just been guessed? Would it help the interlocutor to guess the difference in meaning of the two by adding some adverb—really, actually, genuinely for example, like in"He is an old and really/ actually/ genuinely old friend of mine?

Specifically, the question is:

How can something both old (of long duration; not new) and old (attained an advanced age) such as a friend be described?

  • How about an old old friend? (:
    – user3395
    May 5, 2018 at 13:11
  • @userr2684291 That's just what I was thinking of before asking. Are you going to expand it into the answer? I'd be delighted if you would.
    – Victor B.
    May 5, 2018 at 13:15
  • 1
    "Old as in age" can be replaced with aged and "old as in a long time" can be replaced with long-time, if you really have to be specific.
    – stangdon
    May 5, 2018 at 13:24
  • aged is rather formal.
    – Lambie
    May 5, 2018 at 14:01

2 Answers 2


Two meanings of old: not new and advanced age.

Short answer: Using the same word twice in English is emphatic. Generally, if I say this is an "old, old friend", the repetition emphasizes the idea of long standing and not age.

Also, generally, one would not call a person an old friend directly and be referring to age. That would be considered very rude.

And if one is talking about that friend to another person, one might say: "You know that old friend I have?" In the context of a conversation, that could be referring to age. And if clarification is needed: "You know that old friend of mine, old as in age?" old as in age can be expressed many, many ways. (Oops, there's that emphasis.)

And if, in that same conversation with another person out of earshot of the friend, you wanted to use both meanings, you might say something like:

- You know that old friend of mine, age-wise and time-wise? or

- You know that old friend of mine, in both senses of the word?

That makes the two meanings clear.

A similar situation arises with the word funny. "He's a funny, funny man." means very funny. However, funny can mean both comical and odd (weird). Saying funny twice means very funny.

So, for "He's a funny man.", if there is ambiguity, it can be lifted by saying: "He is a funny man, in both senses of the word. It can also be clarified: "He's a funny man, funny ha ha". or "He is a funny man, as in odd".

  • What about an old old friend? See, I omitted the comma because you can read old friend as one unit (and MW even defines it as one vocabulary item). In that case, the first old, I believe, could simply be interpreted as advanced in age.
    – user3395
    May 5, 2018 at 14:53
  • I explained my reasons. One doesn't use old old with or without a comma (which, by the way, cannot really be heard in speech) to mean anything other than a friend of very long standing. And I don't believe any native speaker would interpret old, old friend as advanced in age, unless otherwise specified by context. You cannot express both meanings simultaneously by repeating the word. That was the whole point of my answer.
    – Lambie
    May 5, 2018 at 14:57
  • I understand, but sometimes we get this kind of tunnel vision where we don't see the other interpretation unless other clues are provided. That's why I commented. Thanks for the explanation.
    – user3395
    May 5, 2018 at 15:11
  • At last, someone took pains to answer, and that someone is you; I like all the answers you take time to post to my silly, as it may seem. requests--upvote, upvote!!!
    – Victor B.
    May 5, 2018 at 15:11
  • @Rompey I have to say that I probably take the time to answer them because I respond well to "cute". (I mean your name, by the way). :)
    – Lambie
    May 5, 2018 at 15:13

I have an older friend who is also an old friend.

Older may not be a widespread expression, but in my social circles it's a common and polite way to suggest someone is middle-aged or over, and usually much older than you are.

There are a number of older people in my tennis club, and most of the time they beat the pants off the younger players.

Older can be used instead of elderly, which most often refers to someone of advanced years -- older than 75 or 80 -- and generally implies frailty or infirmity.

I see many elderly women doing yoga, but they keep up with the rest of the class.

  • The idea is how do you convey both at once?Also, if you are 20, 45 is older but, believe me, 45 is not old.
    – Lambie
    May 6, 2018 at 13:42
  • @Lambie Yes, using older for someone who isn't particularly old might cause offense. Such is the nature of language. Anyway I don't think there is any way to mean both "at once". The definitions don't overlap. As you point out, even saying someone is an old, old friend normally implies emphasis, not two different meanings, and all your other examples include some explanation.
    – Andrew
    May 6, 2018 at 14:05
  • it's not that older might cause offense. It's that older does not necessarily mean "old". It can, of course, be a euphemism for old but relative to an actual age can just mean several generations ahead of some age.
    – Lambie
    May 6, 2018 at 14:23
  • @Lambie As I mention in my answer, "older" may not be a widespread euphemism. It's more or less the same as "of a certain age" to imply "middle age or beyond", e.g. "Do you know the name of that guy in our book club? He's an older man who always wears the same blue sweater."
    – Andrew
    May 6, 2018 at 14:28

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