Johnny is a man of no mean endowments

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panzerfaust0

Senior Member
mandarin
Hello. I read in Stacy Schiff's book, "Cleopatra: a life", a sentence: "She was a woman of no mean endowments; she could write verses, bandy jests, and use language which was modest, or tender, or wanton; in fine, she possessed a high degree of wit and of charm."

So I think that "____ is a woman of no mean endowments" means that this woman is smart. So far so good, right? But what if I were to say, "Johnny is a man of no mean endowments". Does it make you think that he is smart, or does it make you think he has a big penis? I say this because we say euphemistically that "he is well endowed" to mean that this man has a big penis.

Your thoughts? Should I have said instead, "Johnny is a man of no mean intellectual endowments", as to dispel any confusion? Thanks.
 
  • Myridon

    Senior Member
    English - US
    With regard to Cleopatra, "endowments" could also be referring not only to intellect but also to talent, beauty, and (as mentioned) charm. Anything that might be considered a natural gift.
    In context, I think people would see the correct meaning even with a man. (I would probably change "endowments" to "endowment" if I were intentionally joking.)
     

    panzerfaust0

    Senior Member
    mandarin
    Thanks for the reply, Myr.

    So "no mean endowments" doesn't actually refer to intellect only? That it refers to a person gifted in many areas?

    Is it kind of like when a person is genetically superior in many ways?
     

    Myridon

    Senior Member
    English - US
    Yes. Endowments is plural. Stupid people can be quite charming. Smart people can be bad at making jests.
     

    Truffula

    Senior Member
    English - USA
    Endowment literally is money - for an individual person, money given to them as their birth portion of their family's wealth, for example. So in the extension of the word it means gifts given at birth, talents or natural abilities or qualities that benefit a person that they did not earn but simply have out of some aspect of the fact of being born who they are. So that can be physical endowments, mental endowments, spiritual endowments, social endowments, and so forth. "Person X is of no mean endowments" means approximately "Person X is gifted." In this context, the endowments are specified: wit and charm. Context will have to tell you what the gifts are that "endowments" refers to. It certainly can mean physical size, especially of a body part or parts that people might prefer to refer to euphemistically. It is possible that one might say, for example, "Nicki Minaj is a woman of no mean endowments," and that given one context people may interpret this physically, in another musically, in a third financially.
     
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