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Because of Japanese culture, I'm guessing this is pretty important to know, and I really don't want to risk offending anyone. I mean obviously in English we have,

Elderly, Old people, Senior, Pensioner, OAP, and obviously some offensive terms too which I'm sure you know

They're all appropriate in different circumstances and I was hoping someone could help me differentiate this with the Japanese terms.

I've heard these before:

老人、 年寄り、 I believe I've also heard お年寄り、 高齢者、 Then of course、 くそばばあ、 くそじじい Which are pretty obviously offensive terms.

Does it depend who you're talking to or how generally you're talking?

If you could give me some insight into the appropriate situations for use of these or any others you've heard, I'd appreciate it a lot!

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  • Don't forget 年配.
    – istrasci
    Dec 29 '20 at 18:08
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The following four words would be enough (listed in the descending order of importance):

  • お年寄り: Polite and safe. This is the first word Japanese children learn to politely refer to elderly people.
  • 高齢者: Formal and stiff. Suitable in news articles, government documents, academic articles, etc.
  • ご年配【ねんぱい】の方: Even politer and more courteous than お年寄り.
  • ご老人: Respectful, but used mainly in samurai dramas.

Note that you must never forget to add お/ご. Addressing an old person as 年寄り or 老人 can be highly blunt and rude.

See also:

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