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The other day I was talking about Freddie Mercury. I wanted to convey:

Having an outrageously flamboyant stage persona he was a larger-than-life artist.

I said

Ayant un personnage de scène outrageusement flamboyant, il était un artiste plus grand que la vie.

I was barely understood. Googling a bit I found that even the title of the (old) American film "Bigger than life" was changed to "Derrière le miroir".

  1. What is wrong with the literal translation of "larger-than-life/bigger-than-life" and does not work in French? I know, of course, that many literal translations from English to French and vice versa (or from and to other languages for that matter) do not work; I am just wondering about this idiom in particular.

  2. A phrasing like

Ayant un personnage de scène outrageusement flamboyant, il était un artiste truculent.

would be better?

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    « Personne outrageusement flamboyante, sur scène il allait au-delà de son art. » – Personne Jun 25 at 4:56
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The literal translation plus grand que la vie does not work indeed. It is simply one of those many idiomatic phrases than cannot be translated literally.

Truculent conveys indeed the same idea, but is a less common and more formal word than the English phrase larger/bigger than life.

Some other translations could be :

Il avait une personnalité hors du commun/hors norme

C'était un personnage haut en couleurs

C'était un sacré personnage (may sound a bit outdated to young ears nowadays...)

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    Plus grand que la vie simply has no meaning when taken literaly in French, just like so many other idioms that cannot be translated word for word from one language to other. If you think about it, it is has no meaning if taken in the literal sense: how do you measure life ? How can you compare the size of a human with life ? And what does it imply if you are "bigger" than it ? In that sense, for once, French is more down-to-earth... – Greg Jun 24 at 13:09
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    I will not add it because it deviates from the original question: a nice idiom you could use to describe Freddie Mercury would be bête de scène: fr.wiktionary.org/wiki/b%C3%AAte_de_sc%C3%A8ne – Greg Jun 24 at 13:24
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    Ok. As you wish:-)! I still think the comment about why "plus grand que la vie simply has no meaning when taken literaly in French, just like so many other idioms that cannot be translated word for word from one language to other. If you think about it, it is has no meaning if taken in the literal sense: how do you measure life ? How can you compare the size of a human with life ? And what does it imply if you are "bigger" than it ? In that sense, for once, French is more down-to-earth" has a place in the answer considering the fact that I have a question "1. What is wrong with the literal..." – Dimitris Jun 24 at 14:24
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    @jlliagre: In Greek one may use "larger-than-life" as it is:-)! (It requires a basic understanding of English to be understood though...) – Dimitris Jun 24 at 16:20
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    @Dimitris Strange, I would guess most French people with a basic understanding of English or even a good level in this language wouldn't understand the meaning of plus grand que la vie or larger than life unless they have already been taught this idiom. – jlliagre Jun 24 at 20:30

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