The following definition of mortal is from Oxford Dictionaries Online:

[humorous] a person contrasted with others regarded as being of higher status or ability

It gives this sentence as an example:

an ambassador had to live in a style which was not expected of lesser mortals

Where is the humorous point of it? I can't see it.

2 Answers 2


This sense is a play on the contrast between mortals and immortals (specifically, the gods). By calling ordinary people mortals and contrasting them to someone else (such as ambassadors), the speaker is implying that the "immortals" think they're like the gods.

  • 3
    Well, actually, in OP's specific context the ambassador is classified as a "mortal" (but not a lesser one, so by implication he's a greater mortal). Your interpretation would be correct if the reference had been to mere mortals, but it's close enough. Oct 28, 2013 at 4:38
  • The use of the word lesser in this case is merely an understated shading of the comparison; the humor derives from the implication that even the tacitly greater mortals aren't really quite mortal. Oct 28, 2013 at 4:57

We are all mortals, are we not? So, using a phrase like lesser mortals suggests some sort of hierarchy that doesn't really exist. It's not the kind of humor that would make you LOL, but it might bring an amused smile.

Here's another example:

LeBron James does things on the basketball court that mortals should not be able do.

That wording elevates James to an above-human status. It's a somehat "humorous" way of saying his talents are seemingly superhuman.

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