Posted by Smokey Stover on December 02, 2006
In Reply to: A man among men posted by Saxon on December 01, 2006
: A man among men.
: We have been having a debate about wether this means
: 1. unexceptional, common, like all others, ordinary
: 2. a superior example of one in a class
: We have found examples of both uses. Does anyone know where this term originated and what it meant when first used?
Well, Saxon, if such ye be, you are asking a lot if you want to know about the origins. However, I'll quote to you from better minds than mine, namely, the editors of the Oxford English Dictionary, who are kind enough to include various uses in dated citations. The most modern and unambiguous use is that in the last citation. I beg you to consider that to be the valid position as of today.
"(b) a man among men, a person regarded as epitomizing manhood or mankind; (esp. as a term of praise) one who is the equal of or an example to all others; an active, well-rounded member of society.
[a1533 LD. BERNERS tr. A. de Guevara Golden Bk. M. Aurelius sig. Mmii f. 134, In good sothe there is no man among men, no humain among the humains, but he is as a brute beast, and wilde among wyld beastes. 1667 MILTON Paradise Lost III. 283 Thou therefore whom thou only canst redeeme, Thir Nature also to thy Nature joyne; And be thy self Man among men on Earth, Made flesh.] 1875 J. R. LOWELL in N. Amer. Rev. Apr. 358 He is at least a man among men, and not a humbug among humbugs. 1894 R. KIPLING Jungle Bk. 28 Because I was all but your brother in blood, I promise that when I am a man among men I will not betray ye to men as ye have betrayed me. 1926 D. H. LAWRENCE David xiii. 99 He is no man among men any more. Evil possesses him. 1983 J. JONES Dostoevsky vi. 216 'The truth of God and the law of nature'..compel Raskolnikov first to be exiled from the humanity he has outraged, and then to confess and accept the public consequences of confession as the only way to become a man among men again. 1988 M. CHARNEY Hamlet's Fictions III. ix. 130 To be a man among men is the ultimate superlative."
There is also an old expression, "a man of men," with numerous citations in the OED.