A non-native English speaker asked me whether referring to a person as "large" was "normal". Eg. That guy is large! It sounded odd to me so I said I wouldn't. Is there a rule about this? Eg It's only used for objects and not humans? Or is my hunch wrong?

  • 2
    Semantics don't really have ‘rules’ as such; we can only say what's in common usage and likely to be understood. Describing a person as ‘large’ is perhaps not as common as describing them as ‘big’, but it's obvious what it means (depending on context). “He was a large, broad-shouldered man” sounds perfectly normal to me, though “He is large” sounds unusual. Oct 7 '16 at 8:04
  • "Ngrams not found: guy is large" (vs. guy is huge)
    – Mazura
    Oct 7 '16 at 8:07
  • It's sometimes a euphemism for fat, but it's a suitable usage.
    – deadrat
    Oct 7 '16 at 9:09
  • A 'large guy' rather than ''that guy is large' - still correct, but a tad unwieldly.
    – Sinclair
    Oct 8 '16 at 0:14
  • Normally one would say "big guy" rather than "large guy", but there's nothing wrong with the latter. ("Big guy" is about 200 times more common than "large guy" on Ngram, and I'll note that "large guy" seems a better choice in a book that's discussing the nature of the muscular body: but the muscle or fat on a large guy may absorb the shock and dissipate the energy through out all that body mass.
    – Hot Licks
    Oct 8 '16 at 0:46

You can describe a person as large, and be in good company, although be careful!

From The Oxford English Dictionary

e. Of a person.

(a) Greater than average in size of body and limbs; well-built. In later use sometimes euphem.: overweight, fat. the larger lady: overweight women as a class

1729 ‘C. Fell’ Lives of Saints IV. 300 As he was large and strong he undertook more Work than most of his Brethren.

1836 Dickens Pickwick Papers (1837) ii. 15 A large lady in blue satin.

1870 Dickens Edwin Drood vi. 36 ‘Is he a large man, Ma?’ ‘I should call him a large man, my dear..but that his voice is so much larger’.

1905 Titusville (Pa.) Herald 17 Apr. 7/1 (advt.) For the larger lady a nice full skirt pattern.

1922 Amer. Cloak & Suit Rev. Dec. 119/3 No capable saleswoman ever asks a large woman what size she wears.

1947 B. Mason in Landfall Dec. 284 Among us Kiwis he was large certainly, but beside the boys from Bolton and Leeds, he looked like a bear with his cubs.

2002 Big Issue 4 Nov. 29/4 Once a fun-sized beacon of hope for the larger lady, Missy done gone shed more pounds than a dotcom shareholder

To bring the usage up to 2016, it is not hard to imagine the following (made up)

It was a horrible flight. I had a middle seat and was sandwiched between a very large woman on my left and a very large man on my right.

As the quotations from the OED suggest, anyone hearing this would probably assume that the woman was fat. As for the man -- he might be fat or he might be 6'4" and 250 pounds of pure muscle. Unfair!

A very common usage of large is in referring to size, as in the following conversation I had with a large muscular friend at my gym, for whom I was going to buy a T-shirt

Q: What size should I get?

A: I'm an extra extra large.

Thus, you could call someone "an extra large", obliquely referring to his T-shirt size or his sweat-pants size.

This is flattering if it's a man, and his size comes from muscle, not fat. Women's sizes also come in large, extra large and so on, but don't call a woman large.

For large referring to size, The Free Dictionary

8a size of garments for persons who are heavier or broader than average.

8b. a garment in this size

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