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I am aware of 낡은 and 오래 된, but I'm not sure that these are suitable for saying that an (esteemed) person is old. (I'm sure 헌 probably isn't either!)

What is the politest way to say that someone is old? (I realise that drawing attention to someone's age may never be considered the height of politeness!)

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    낡은 and 오래된 are NEVER used to describe a person being old. If you want to express so, use 늙은, or more politely 나이가 많은. Officially you may use 연로한. – 짱멋진만찢남 Jul 19 '16 at 11:12
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    @SuperCoolHandsomeGelBoy that sounds like it could be a good answer, if you add some examples? – topo Reinstate Monica Jul 19 '16 at 11:26
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연세 should be definitely mentioned here. 연세 is a more polite form of 나이, and if you want to be super polite, you can say 연세가 많으시다 to mean "old". It's also a very common expression.

It might seem odd at first, because you're elevating 연세 which is the subject, not whoever old. But there's a thing called indirect honorifics(간접높임법) which allows for this to work.

Example sentence:

연세가 많으신 아버지께서 전립선암 진단을 받으셨습니다. My old father was diagnosed with prostate cancer.

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  • Thanks for explaining that! I am not a Korean native speaker, and is needing more guidance. – 짱멋진만찢남 Jul 19 '16 at 14:00
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낡은 and 오래된 are used to describe objects being old, but never people. If you intend to express, use 나이가 많다, 연로하다, 늙다, 나이가 들다.

  1. 나이가 들다.

It means a person starting to be old(entering the old age). Ex: 그 분은 나이가 들고 있습니다.

  1. 늙다

It tends to be used to mean a stage in life, and rarely used to describe an old individual.

For example: 인간은 왜 늙고 죽을까요? -> Why would people become old and die?

  1. 나이가 많다

This one is more respectful, especially when you use this to address themselves. Ex: 여러분 나이가 많은 걸 제가 잘 알고 있다.

  1. 연로하다

This one tend to be used in official writings, and used to describe those old people in general. This is the most respectful, but rarely used in speech or using this word to describe the listener while listener being old.

Ex(in article): 연로한 자에게 관심을 보였던 적이 있으세요? -> Have you tried caring the elderly?

I am not familiar with them. Please correct my mistakes if there are.

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    A very nice answer. Well explained. – user7 Jul 19 '16 at 13:28
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Adding to @SuperCoolHandsomeGelBoy and @MujjinGun's great answers, a Korean speaker uses the noun '춘추 春秋' which means:

  1. 어른의 나이를 높여 이르는 말. An honorific word used when referring to old people or senior (어른)'s age

나는 먼저 그녀의 아버님께 춘추가 어떻게 되시는지 여쭈어 보았다. First, I asked her father how old he was.

Since you asked

What is the politest way in Korean to say that someone is 'old'?

The politest way is

춘추가 많으시다. (Subject) is old.

春 (춘) is Spring and 秋 (추) is Autumn. Of course, this word is not as broadly used as '연세', but it sounds more honorific than '연세'.

[네이버 국어사전]

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    This expression gave me a feeling of being ancient. Do you have any idea when exactly will 춘추 be used nowadays? – 짱멋진만찢남 Jul 19 '16 at 17:05
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    @SuperCoolHandsomeGelBoy Please consider posting another question. – user7 Jul 19 '16 at 18:21

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