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The word "stature" is doubly defined by Merriam-Webster like so:

1 : natural height (as of a person) in an upright position

2 : quality or status gained by growth, development, or achievement

I am wondering: is there a reason that we have this link between height and achievement in English? Is there etymological history behind stature meaning both "height" and "achievement"?

Backstory: I am tall (6'4"). Many times when people haven't seen me in a while they say "Wow, you are taller than I remember." I am also quite playful. I joke a lot and I am kind of goofy. This, along with the definition of stature, leads me to the conclusion that people remember me as being short because they associate my goofy nature with my height. So, when they see me, they say "wow you are tall!" because their memory of me is as a short person, i.e., one who is not very revered or respected. The word I use to represent this phenomenon is: stature. I am physically tall but socially "short."

I provide this backstory to make my question clearer. i.e., the question is such that the answer will hopefully validate or invalidate my theory of why people say they remember me being shorter than I am.

closed as primarily opinion-based by Jason Bassford, Chappo, JJJ, Neeku, TrevorD Apr 25 at 23:13

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The association between height and achievement is ingrained in English and the Romance languages. The motto of the Olympics is citius, altius, fortius (faster, higher, stronger), where altus (in the sense meaning high) means both

(Lit.) grown or become great

and

Trop., high, lofty, elevated, great, magnanimous, high-minded, noble, august, etc.

This sense of figurative greatness alongside physical height is frequently duplicated in other height words, including stature. The word emerges in Middle English as a loanword from French. In the 14th century romance Sir Ferumbras, stature describes the physical capacity of the main character:

Fyrumbras of Alisandre was a man of gret stature,

Wel brode were his sholdres & long was his forchure (lines 550-1).

That said, this line also has the connotations of status. The last two lines claim that, if Ferumbras were Christian, he would be greater than any living knight. So "great stature" also may qualify his status and strength as well as his size. That kind of ambiguity is frequent in romance, where chivalric bodies attained honor directly through their strength and accomplishments, which often correlated to size.

The Oxford English Dictionary marks the first usage of stature as status in the 16th century:

1533 tr. Erasmus Enchiridion Militis Christiani xiii. sig. K.iiiiv Neuer aduaunsynge our selfe vp to the lyberty of the spiryte, neuer growynge vp to the large stature of charite [L. nunquam ad amplitudinem charitatis crescentes].

In this context, applied to an abstract quality (charity), stature can refer to quality or status - its size (amplitudinem) in an abstract sense. The sense is that under the conditions being described outside the quote, the "preposterous esteemers of things" will never achieve charity.


I can't speak to how far back into Anglo-Norman stature may have been used in the sense of achievement. In Anglo-Norman it would have had a sense of size and attitude. In any case, in English stature would refer to status and achievement no later than the 16th century, and (given examples of other height words and its history in romances like Sir Ferumbras) likely had connotations of achievement and status from its first uses.

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Many English words have an original meaning that lends itself to metaphoric usage which, over time, becomes a second recognised meaning. Thus a person can have a social stature (= heightened social status) quite unrelated to their physical stature (= height). Nonetheless, you shouldn't confuse the literal with the figurative.

Similarly a person can have a sharp mind (a figurative meaning that dates back to the original Old English scearp, "having a cutting edge; pointed; intellectually acute, active, shrewd; keen (of senses); severe; biting, bitter (of tastes)"), or a sharp tongue (attested early 13th century), or even be sharply dressed (from hipster slang, 1944), even though none of these usages mean sharp in the sense of having a literal cutting edge.

English is generously strewn (figurative usage) with such words!

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