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What Does It Mean If Something Is "Larger than Life"?

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  • Written By: Jim B.
  • Edited By: M. C. Hughes
  • Last Modified Date: 27 November 2016
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If someone or something is described as larger than life, it means that they have characteristics which are impressive or outsized compared with normal human beings. This phrase is an English idiom and is often reserved for fictional characters that are imbued by their creators with almost superhuman qualities. It can also be used as a kind of compliment or tribute for an actual human being with an extraordinary personality or some other distinguishing feature that sets him or her apart from others. The phrase gets its power from its use of exaggeration and figurative license, since it would be impossible to actually measure the size of life.

On certain occasions, speakers of English use words or phrases which have meanings that might not be clear to someone who hasn’t heard the or only knows the literal definitions of the words. That is because such a construction is known as an idiom, which takes its meaning not from how its words are defined but rather from how it has evolved within the culture. One idiomatic expression used to describe someone with outsized characteristics is the phrase “larger than life.”

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It is relatively common for this phrase to be uttered in reference to fictional characters. Such characters need not have to be entirely realistic, and, as such, their creators often give them assets or characteristics which actual living persons would not have. Mythological heroes are emblematic of these superior beings that seem to dwarf, both literally and figuratively, normal people. As an example, consider the sentence, “Hercules’ labors were certainly larger than life.”

When this phrase is used to describe an actual human being, it is certainly a lofty tribute. As a result, this phrase can often pop up in obituaries or eulogies for those who have passed away. It can also be used as a testimonial of sorts to someone who is still alive and is impressive enough in some manner to warrant its use. For example, someone might say, “He is so larger than life that it’s hard to imagine him even getting sick.”

The use of exaggeration is what gives this phrase its particular power. Especially when it is used in reference to an actual person, there can hardly be a greater compliment than to call someone “larger than life.” That is why it is usually reserved for only the most noteworthy personalities, or else its impact would be somewhat lessened.

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cloudel
Post 4

My family and I used to say that our neighbor was larger than life, because we knew him well, and we had never seen him get sick. Even when his own wife and kids came down with contagious illnesses, he never got so much as a sniffle.

We thought he must have some super powerful immune system from another world. I've seen people avoid getting colds before, but generally, if you are in the same house with someone who has the flu or a stomach virus, you are going to come down with it.

Tragically, he died last year in a car accident. So, he wasn't larger than life after all, but his immune system was.

kylee07drg
Post 3

I always thought that “larger than life” meant having superpowers. I've only heard it in reference to fictional characters.

My cousin argued with me that the larger than life meaning was much more broad and could be used to describe people with traits that were very special. I suppose that she was right after all.

To me, this idiom just sounds like one big exaggeration. I don't like using it, because I don't like placing one person on a pedestal. I understand why cartoon writers use it, but I just don't think it has a place in real life.

Perdido
Post 2

@giddion – I have met people who were outstanding in that way. Even though they are dead and gone, to me, they are still larger than life.

When someone has a really special spirit that defies the odds, the impression of them stays with you after they are gone. I just don't think that their spirit died with the body at all.

I've been blessed to meet three people in my lifetime whom I consider to be larger than life. I would love for someone to think that about me. It's the ultimate honor.

giddion
Post 1

It's a very ethereal quality that makes you larger than life. It's hard to pinpoint, and you only know it when you see it.

I knew a man who didn't let anything get him down. His view was such that the troubles of this life were only temporary, and our souls were so far above all that and so everlasting that there was no need to despair when we faced trials.

I loved being around him, because he always cheered me up. He didn't seem tied to this world. It was as though he came right down from heaven to give everyone around him a message that we were all actually larger than life. We just had to realize that, and this is something not many people ever grasp.

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