During my rather constant intertubes consumption today, I ran across the quote (I think on Andrew Sullivan’s page but maybe just on facebook…) by Oliver Wendell Holmes that went so:
To be seventy years young is sometimes far more cheerful and hopeful than to be forty years old.
And it got me to thinking about that turn of phrase–to be old or young that is used here as a means of being clever.
Specifically, think of the sentence:
I am twenty-five years old.
I am old.
In these two sentences, the word “old” has a very different purpose in the sentence.
In the second, it is a clear predicate adjective that renames the subject. So I becomes “old”.
In the first sentence, however, the I does not become what we would consider “old” (well, at least the majority of the population…). Thus, it interests me as to how it came to be used in context. One might note, however, that the grammar usage of “old” in this sentence is a bit different.. it is more of a modifier of 25 years rather than a direct pedicate adjective renaming the subject. For example, one could just as easily say:
I am twenty-five years of age.
.. and “of age” clearly is a modifier of years..
So.. this made me go look the damn word up in the OED and that clarifies the matter. Old comes from an old english root “alan” which meant “to nourish” to “grow up”, and specifically, old is based on the past participle of that verb.
Thus, to be “old” means to “have been nourished” or “to have grown up.”
Thus “I am 25 years old” means “I am 25 years nourished” or “25 years grown up” which makes a lot of sense.
On the other hand, the word “young” seems just to mean “not old” or “not having lived a long time.. and thus to say “I am 25 years young” ==”I am 25 years not old” doesn’t fit fundamental structures of usage nearly as well–and it therefore usually only appears as an implicit humorous usage to contrast with old-ness.
Overall–I don’t mind growing old. Yes, there are definite trade offs and things of youth that will be missed.. but the fact that I’ve survived 38 years of nourishing and have not yet been eaten by bears…. I see that as a good thing each and every day…
ps–I find it fascinating that this topic as more and more all somehow come back to relate to eating..