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I am a Korean reading The Lives of the Great Composers by Harold Schonberg.

There's part of an article quoted from the New York Times describing how Americans welcomed Offenbach in his visit to New York.

It goes:

Reporters swarmed around him before he had yet landed, and one of them, connected with a Tammany evening paper, was actually presented with one of the great man's private cigars and testified with much feeling that "mortal man never smoked their superior in quality.

What I am stuck with is the last sentence with double quotations. "mortal man never smoked their superior in quality." I really don't understand.

Does "mortal man" mean general human-being or the modest reporter who was presented with a cigar? What does "never smoked" "superior in quality"? Does it mean that the reporter was so honored that he forgot the superior quality of the cigar?

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    Yes, 'mortal man' means humans in general. The reporter meant that the cigar was so good that no-one had ever smoked a better one. – Kate Bunting Feb 19 at 17:31
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    It's just normal advertising HyperBowlLIII. – Hot Licks Feb 19 at 18:45
  • Thank you, Kate and Hot Licks. You really helped me. Now I see it sounds like an advertisement. :) – kimweonill Feb 22 at 15:01
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This sentence is basically saying "no man has ever smoked a better cigar."

"Mortal man" means all of humanity. Meaning one would have to be a deity or of some other world to find a better cigar.

Please know that this is written somewhat poetically and you would never hear a native English speaker say something like this in casual conversation. I had to read it in context in order to understand it.

  • Thank you for your kind reply. I realized for the first time that "never" can mean "have ever done something". It is grateful that you pointed out that it is not very easy to understand the sentence, I really appreciate it. – kimweonill Feb 22 at 14:59
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It simply is a way of saying 'there are no cigars better than that brand' i.e. they have no superior, so it is impossible to smoke a higher-quality cigar.

Re user's answer, personally I don't see a problem with the use of 'their', I just see it as the standard pronoun to use in the context. As for the use of 'mortals', yes, it is referring to mankind as a whole.

Hope I've helped!

  • Thank you so much Lordology. It really helped me understand the sentence. Hope you have a wonderful weekend! – kimweonill Feb 22 at 15:03
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It sounds awkward to me too. I think the word choice "their" makes it so.

I interpret that the reporter was referring to the cigar (their brand quality). Meaning that mortal man never smoked a more superior brand of cigar (because there are none superior available to be had by mortals - implying the divine).

I hope this helps.

  • I'm just interested in how you see 'their' to be the incorrect pronoun here? – Lordology Feb 19 at 17:36
  • I didn't say it was incorrect. It only seems difficult (awkward - my words) to understand within the whole context of the passage. I suppose it was the word choice of the reporter. – user22542 Feb 19 at 17:54
  • Sorry, I meant to put awkward. But then how would you phrase if you did not use 'their'? – Lordology Feb 19 at 17:56
  • I would have used "a cigar" possibly or left the word out completely. Is this confusing in some way? – user22542 Feb 19 at 18:02
  • "mortal man never smoked a cigar superior in quality." sounds unidiomatic (or at least inferior to the original), especially since the word 'cigar' had been used in the immediate last sentence, and also for a writer of that time period. As for "mortal man never smoked superior in quality", this sounds unidiomatic even more so. – Lordology Feb 19 at 20:50

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