does "a less mercenary man" means "a man who is not mercenary"?

She was absolutely determined that Home should have the money and be her heir. A less mercenary man never lived, and he begged her again and again to think of her relatives, to which she answered that the money was her own to do what she pleased with, and that no relatives were dependent upon it.

  • 1
    No. It means a man who is not as mercenary [as he actually is]. The reference is to a hypothetical person who is less mercenary than the subject, but who might still be somewhat mercenary. But your context is a highly stylised / literary way of saying No-one could be less mercenary than him (by implication, because he isn't mercenary at all, so it's impossible to be LESS mercenary than him). – FumbleFingers May 31 '20 at 14:01

Let's first establish the basics. "Mercenary" is usually used to mean "a soldier who fights for money". Sometimes people will agree to be soldiers for some nation or cause, not because they are patriots who believe that this cause is noble or just and worth risking their lives for, but because they are paid a lot of money. More generally, "mercenary" can mean someone who is only interested in money, or as an adjective it can mean an excessive desire for money.

Here, "she" (whoever she is) wanted to give Home money, but he tried to convince her to give the money to her relatives instead. That is, Home did NOT have an excessive desire for money. He didn't want the money at all.

So the writer says "a less mercenary man never lived", that is, there is no one who cared less about money than Home. He didn't care about money at all. If you looked for someone who cared about money less than Home did, you wouldn't be able to find such a person.

This is a fairly common idiom. Not specifically with the word "mercenary", but using any adjective, and using "less" or "more" as appropriate. "A more humble man never lived ..." "A less ugly man never lived ..." etc.

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service, privacy policy and cookie policy

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.