Wednesday, November 25, 2009


I'm not the first to take notice of this, I am sure, but tonight I was struck by how we refer to a person's age in English, particularly when we say, "How old are you?" This would seem funny, I suppose, to anyone for whom the word "old" is derogatory. I remember when I was four years old yearning to be five, dying even for the right to say "I'm five and a half." 

In Portuguese we ask "How many years do you have?" I like that better. It suggests that one is accumulating sought-after collectibles. 


  1. Answered you elsewhere but just had to say that I've been thinking about a similar topic. The first thing that an American asks is "What do you do?" The job we do or don't do is evidently huge in our minds. Just came back from Cambodia where the important things are: "How old are you?" (the biggest, because you figure out your pecking order that way); "How many children do you have?" So respect for elders and children come first...

  2. I usually abhor the "what do you do" question, because it's usually followed by, "Is there any money in that?"

    I remember when I was a child, the number one question on the playground was "What do you want to be when you grow up?" My answer, for much of my youth, was "Cartoonist." After puberty, it was "Rock star."

    Cambodia must have been an adventure!