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Objects, you can refer to as 古い with impunity. But I have never once heard a person referred to as 古い, so for a long time I thought the word just didn't apply to people. Still, searching 古い男 on Google gets pictures of old men. I imagine it's probably best to refer to old people as something like おじいさん or 老人 if their age is relevant, though.

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2 Answers 2

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To us native speakers, 「古{ふる}い男{おとこ}」 does not mean "an old man"; It never does to tell the truth. This is why direct translation could be dangerous at times.

「古い男」 to us generally means "an old-fashioned man". In other words, it is synonymous to 「古いタイプの男」、「価値観{かちかん}の古い男」、「考{かんが}え方{かた}の古い男」, etc.

Therefore, a 「古い男」 does not necessarily have to be biologically old because it is his personal values that matter here.

To refer to "an old man", we use 「年配{ねんぱい}の男の人」、「老人{ろうじん}」、「年老{としお}いた男性{だんせい}」、「おじいさん」, etc. (We do not use 「男」 by itself nearly as often as you use "man" in English.)

Finally, it might help to remember that 「古い」 is the antonym of 「新{あたら}しい」 ("new") and not of 「若{わか}い」 ("young"). This is clearly different from English where "old" is the antonym of both "new" and "young". It is a "well-known" cause of mistranslation.

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  • From what I have learnt, even though 老人 is commonly used in various (neutral) words and expressions, such as 老人ホーム, to refer to specific individuals as 老人 is considered rude.
    – a20
    Commented Oct 27, 2021 at 13:37
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But I have never once heard a person referred to as 古い,

We use 古い also 新しい for a person not for describing his/her age but for describing his/her way/tendency of thinking.

As you know 古い is an adjective, and an adjective has two different ways of use as a predicative use and an attributive one.

An attributive use of 古い is already answered using the example with 古い男, so I'll answer 古い in a predicative use.

古い in 彼は古い means 彼の考え方は古い His way of thinking is obsolete/old-fashioned, while 彼は新しい means His way of thinking is novel/original/innovative/unconventional/audaciou/avant-garde.

Both ways of use of 古い could be used, but I think 彼は古い/新しい is used more than 彼は古い男/新しい男です.

EDIT

A good way to refer to "an old man" is お年寄{としよ}り like (車内{しゃない}では、)お年寄りに席{せき}を譲{ゆず}る to yield one's seat to an elderly person (on the train).

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