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So I have just started to learn some 成语 but I came across a 成语 that is 高人一等. I was just wondering what it means, and where it could have come from. From context clues, I think it has to do with tall people or people that are higher(hierachy?), but I am not too sure if I'm on the right track. Thanks for the help!

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  • 高(tall)人(person)一(one)等(grade/rank/level) = being the taller person by one rank = "a notch above the rest"; dictionary is your friend Nov 20 '20 at 6:35
  • @小奥利奥 So it has nothing to do with height?
    – Aiden Chow
    Nov 20 '20 at 6:49
  • 高(better/more superior)人(others)一(one)等(level) which mean better than others. It is never used on a comparison of tallness or height unless you are making jokes to a friend who is the center of a basketball team. It can be used positively or negatively, please check my answer for details.
    – Frank Mi
    Nov 20 '20 at 18:32
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First of all, 高 doesn't only mean high or tall. 高 also figuratively means good, smart, superior and so on. E.g. 高招 (smart move), 高人 (a person who has very good idea).

so, 高人一等,literally means 比别人高一个等级,which figuratively means better than/superior to other people.

It can be used both positive and negative ways. When you describe quality, strategy, and so on, it is usually positive. Positive usage examples:

我们部队的战略高人一等。
他们公司的产品质量高人一等。

When used directly on a person, it is usually negative. If you say a person considering himself as "高人一等", you don't like him because you think he is arrogant and always see below others. Please note that, the general idea is that you should NOT 高人一等, so if you say "我觉得他高人一等",that is not a praise, that is the same as "I feel he is arrogant and not friendly".

Negative usage examples:

那个人目中无人,总是觉得自己高人一等。
大家都是普通人,没有谁高人一等。
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It is a common phrase, not an idiom. 人 here doesn't actually mean 'people', but more like 'others'

高= high

高一等 = higher by one rank/ class

高人一等 = higher than others by one rank/ class = supreme/ superior

This expression is usually used for non-human subjects. For example 品質高人一等,地位高人一等,實用性高人一等 (Superior quality, superior status, superior practicability)

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