26

I've seen statements like "He is 80 years young" in many places. Also, I know that it means the same as

He is 80 years old.

Now, why do people use 'young' instead of 'old' if it means the same? Or am I entirely misinformed and the statement is actually invalid?

24

It's a pun humorous way to tell that you are still young! I myself have used it a couple of times.

This simply means that the person is still energetic at that age and feels or appears 'young'. Imagine a conversation:

"He is 45 years old."
"Old? Look at his energy; he's 45 years young!"

Note that here, old does not mean having wrinkles or being on the verge of contracting diseases associated with senility! The word old here means of a particular age, so don't connect old with aged person (बुज़ुर्ग) when it is accompanied by a number.

  • 4
    Added some more information to address your comment. I'd vote for using it informally. – Maulik V Dec 11 '15 at 6:34
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    Technically, if in "He is X years old", X is the number of years that have passed since he was born, then in "He is Y years young", Y should be the number of years that must pass before he dies. – Zenadix Dec 11 '15 at 16:12
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    You can't apply a literalistic meaning to a "X years young" statement. It is an idiom or wordplay with a well-known meaning. – Tim S. Dec 11 '15 at 16:17
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    It's a joke or maybe wordplay. One thing it isn't is a pun. – Martha Dec 11 '15 at 16:52
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    @MontyHarder: If "someone who is 45 years young would be 5 years younger than he was only 40 years young", an elderly man 1.6m tall is 1dm taller than when he was still 1.7m tall, right? Of course not. Someone who is 45 years young is 5 years younger than he will be when he is 50 years young. Which is exactly how the flattery pointed out in another answer is meant, because the focus is not on how many years have passed already, the focus is on the fact that the person still has many years ahead (or so one hopes). – O. R. Mapper Dec 11 '15 at 21:59
15

Years young1:

describing how old one is in a humorous manner

Example:

I will be fifty years young next year.

Avoid using it if you are serious. We're all getting older, so it would seem to make more sense to use "years old."


Exception: Benjamin Button2

^ He would always say "years younger"


1. dictionary.reference.com
2. Wikipedia

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    Haha, +1 for the Benjamin Button reference. Thanks for the help. Much appreciated. – Varun Nair Dec 11 '15 at 6:37
12

This is an illustration of markedness: a cognitive / linguistic phenomenon that is common to many languages, not just English. Some adjective pairs are naturally asymmetrical:

  • Young / old
  • Short / tall
  • Dumb / smart

You would normally ask how tall a person is. On the other hand, if you ask "How short are you?", then it feels unusual, and it's no longer a neutral question: it's implying that you think the person is unusually short.

Similarly, if you ask "How young are you?", then it implies that you think someone is unexpectedly young. If you say that "He is 80 years young", there is meta-information that the speaker thinks that the subject looks or acts younger than 80 years.

10

It is a form of flattery. Instead of saying that the guy is old and infirm, the flatterer endeavors to imply that the flatteree is super-young for his age, sprite, full of energy, active, etc.

  • +1 because this is the real/common meaning behind it. Some will chuckle when saying it or hearing it, because it's clearly an exaggeration meant for flattery, but it's not a "joke" in the pure sense as others have suggested. – user20827 Dec 13 '15 at 8:08
  • Yes, it is meant to be used to suggest that such a person looks (or feels) young. – 1gr8penguin Jun 28 at 22:23
3

The word "old" essentially has two meanings.

One is simply a measure of age: How old are you? I am 5 years old.

In relative terms, a 5-year-old is considered young whereas an 80-year-old person is much nearer the end of his life and we would speak of him as being "old" in the sense of being elderly. The word has a lot of negative connotations and even teenagers refer to their 40-something parents as "old" in a dismissive, disrespectful way.

Using the expression "80 years young" is a way of flipping that around and suggesting that he is still very much vibrant and alive, the opposite of all the dreaded attachments of being "old".

1

Used in a humorous sense. The speaker is trying to make light of age, which can sometimes be a difficult subject to approach. It is used to make an older person feel more at ease with his/her age.

0

My 74 year dad used to call himself as "74 years young". He was full of curiosity and energy at 74.

So, it is okay to bend the rules of grammar and logic a bit, so long as the meaning comes through.

On the other hand, I would hesitate to say he is 80 years young for a stranger, in case the stranger feels I am not acknowledging or respecting his seniority.

  • What "rules of grammar and logic" are you referring to, specifically? – 200_success Dec 16 '15 at 5:00
  • I am referring to the rules of grammar and logic other commentators have alluded to in this post. For example Zenadix's logical argument posted on Dec 11. – RajuK Dec 17 '15 at 17:47
-1

It's clearly a pun, but we can also interpret “he is 80 years young” as "he has been young for 80 years".

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