forty or forty-five years on

joh2001smile

Senior Member
Chinese
This is from Mutiny On The Bounty by John Boyne. A boy was caught for stealing and brought before judge. Forty or forty-five years old shouldn't be considered to be very old, why the word 'ancient' is used?
Context:
‘Make quiet that boy!’ roared the magistrate on the bench and who was it, only old Mr Henderson again, that grizzly creature, but who was so ancient, with forty or forty-five years on him, if he had a day, that he was sure to have the influenza of the mind and wouldn’t remember me from the time before.
 
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  • Cypherpunk

    Senior Member
    US, English
    I'm not familiar with Boyne's novel, but 'forty years on' usually means forty years later. In this case, Mr. Henderson would definitely be quite old, if he was a man when the narrator first met him.

    Edit: Depending on the type of life on has led, the quality of medical care available, the stress of one's job, etc. all has an impact. I am close to 40 myself, and I work with someone who is just three years older, yet people think she is 10-15 years older. I also work with a gentleman who is two years younger than I am, and he has salt and pepper hair (streaks of grey in his hair), and we both thought he was at least 5 years older than I am, until we had dinner one evening and spoke at length. But, as we had this conversation, I remember saying 'I thought you had at least five years on me', and he replied 'Geez, so did I!'
    If this is the meaning in the quote, though, him would have to refer to one of the other characters. It seems to refer to Mr. Henderson, though, so I think my initial reaction was wrong. I think it means he is at least forty or forty five, as others have said.
     
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    Rational_gaze

    Senior Member
    British English
    I'm not quite sure who is being referred to, but I think that "forty or forty-five years on him" means he was forty or forty-five years older than someone else.

    If I'm 35 and my friend is 45, then I might say "My friend has ten years on me".
     

    mevolution

    Member
    English, England
    Maybe it needs a little more more context, but my understanding is that there are 3 people involved here.

    1) The boy, who is in court for someone reason.
    2) The magistrate Mr. Henderson.
    3) The speaker/narrator of the passage; a friend of "The boy" or maybe his defence lawyer.

    In the phrase "40-45 years on him" the "him" being referred to is the boy, and the speaker is saying that the magistrate has 40-45 years on the boy, or is 40-45 years older than the boy.

    Hope this helps
     
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    Rational_gaze

    Senior Member
    British English
    This isn't something that I know that much about, but just considering an average 'life-expectancy' figure can be misleading.

    A big reason the average life expectancy was so low in the 18th century was surely due to the shocking rates of infant mortality.

    To simplify it ridiculously, if there is a death at 2 months, and a death at 70, it doesn't mean that anyone over 35 (the life expectancy figure) is considered ancient.
     

    Franzi

    Senior Member
    (San Francisco) English
    This isn't something that I know that much about, but just considering an average 'life-expectancy' figure can be misleading.

    A big reason the average life expectancy was so low in the 18th century was surely due to the shocking rates of infant mortality.

    To simplify it ridiculously, if there is a death at 2 months, and a death at 70, it doesn't mean that anyone over 35 (the life expectancy figure) is considered ancient.
    I agree. I assume that the man is "ancient" only in the opinion of the boy who is assuming that anyone older than himself is totally senile even if this isn't true.
     

    iskndarbey

    Senior Member
    US, English
    This isn't something that I know that much about, but just considering an average 'life-expectancy' figure can be misleading.

    A big reason the average life expectancy was so low in the 18th century was surely due to the shocking rates of infant mortality.

    To simplify it ridiculously, if there is a death at 2 months, and a death at 70, it doesn't mean that anyone over 35 (the life expectancy figure) is considered ancient.
    Given the old-fashioned text of the passage, I'd say that "had 45 years on him" means he was 45 years old -- and it was evident that he was carrying the weight of those years on his body.

    Life expectancy statistics generally only count people who live beyond their first birthday, in order not to be skewed too heavily by infant mortality. Until the Industrial Revolution, functioning members of society who were more than 50 years old were extremely thin on the ground; throughout the majority of human history 45 or even 40 years can rightly be considered ancient.

    A number of other sources I've found with a quick Google search suggest that if you include all the infants in your calculations life expectancy for Europe during the 18th century ranged from 19-25 years, so the 35 year number is clearly the average for only the lucky few who survived infancy. I won't link to any of the sources as they are all of pretty dubious validity anyways.
     
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    Rational_gaze

    Senior Member
    British English
    Life expectancy statistics generally only count people who live beyond their first birthday, in order not to be skewed too heavily by infant mortality. Until the Industrial Revolution, functioning members of society who were more than 50 years old were extremely thin on the ground; throughout the majority of human history 45 or even 40 years can rightly be considered ancient.
    I think there are various methods of calculating life expectancy, but we haven't been discussing specific figures. My point was that lots of poor young people dying doesn't make older people ancient any sooner.

    I looked at the first example I could find of someone who lived in the late 18th century (as that's what someone mentioned - I have no idea if it is correct) - George Washington (1732 - 1799). He lived until he was 67. Did I accidentally stumble across the Methuselah of his time?
     

    iskndarbey

    Senior Member
    US, English
    I think there are various methods of calculating life expectancy, but we haven't been discussing specific figures. My point was that lots of poor young people dying doesn't make older people ancient any sooner.

    I looked at the first example I could find of someone who lived in the late 18th century (as that's what someone mentioned - I have no idea if it is correct) - George Washington (1732 - 1799). He lived until he was 67. Did I accidentally stumble across the Methuselah of his time?
    Well, yes, in a way -- elites have clear advantages in relation to the masses and are assured an adequate diet, a lack of which is one of the main causes of early death. I'd be willing to wager any amount of money that 95% of George Washington's compatriots didn't live to see 50.

    The mutiny on the Bounty occurred in 1789, that's why I started talking about the late 18th century.
     

    joh2001smile

    Senior Member
    Chinese
    Maybe it needs a little more more context, but my understanding is that there are 3 people involved here.

    1) The boy, who is in court for someone reason.
    2) The magistrate Mr. Henderson.
    3) The speaker/narrator of the passage; a friend of "The boy" or maybe his defence lawyer.

    In the phrase "40-45 years on him" the "him" being referred to is the boy, and the speaker is saying that the magistrate has 40-45 years on the boy, or is 40-45 years older than the boy.

    Hope this helps
    Sorry, I didn't make it clear enough. The boy and the narrator is the same person, who was brought before the judge for stealing.
     

    iskndarbey

    Senior Member
    US, English
    Sorry, I didn't make it clear enough. The boy and the narrator is the same person, who was brought before the judge for stealing.
    The 'on him' can't possibly refer to the boy -- as the text is written in the first person, it would have to be 'on me'. I stand by my assertion that 'had 45 years on him' means he was 45 years old himself, not 45 years older than some third party.
     

    Franzi

    Senior Member
    (San Francisco) English
    Sorry, I didn't make it clear enough. The boy and the narrator is the same person, who was brought before the judge for stealing.
    Therefore, the man is ancient from the point of view of the "boy". Whether or not 45 would normally have been considered old, it is totally normal that a boy would think that counted as ancient.
     
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