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Old people are told they are "young" when really what is meant is that they are healthy .

I think it can be rearrange to

When old people are told ( that ) they are "young" what is really meant is that they are healthy.

But I am not sure whether that is correct.

I tried to deconstruct it, I thought the core is:

What they are young is really meant is that they are healthy

But that does not seem to be right.

Thank you.

  • By describing some old people as "young", people actually mean that those old people are healthy. – Yuri Mar 31 '16 at 14:33
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This is the meaning of the sentence:

A tells B "you are young"

A means "you are healthy"

The writer doesn't want to mention A, and so they use the passive mood for both clauses:

B is told "you are young"

"you are healthy" is meant.

Then the writer doesn't want to use quotes, so they use reported speech:

B is told that they are young

what is meant is that they ar healthy

Your adaptation is correct, and you can make it a bit easier to understand by adding a comma after "young".

When old people are told ( that ) they are "young", what is really meant is that they are healthy.

A better way to tidy it up would be to eliminate the passive mood and reported speech:

When somebody tells an old person "you are young", what they really mean is "you are healthy"

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