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A colossus was, and still is literally), a statue of a human figure larger than life size. The plural is colossi, the regular Latin form. Colossus is derived from the ancient Greek κολοσσός (in other Greek dialects κολοττός, where the double sigma ('-s-'} is replaced by a double tau '-t-'). Colossus was used prominently for an immense bronze statue of the Greek god Helios erected at the mouth of the harbour in Rhodes. The statue, which was around 33 metres (108 feet) tall - the Colossus of Rhodes - was one of the 'Seven Wonders of the World'. It fell in an earthquake about 225 BCE. The Greeks then applied colossus to other giant statues of humans, such as those in Egypt like the two stone statues of Pharaoh Amenhotep III at Memnon,known as the Colossi of Memnon. Romans then applied it to aggrandizing statues of Emperors, such as the 30 metre tall (the Statue of Liberty in New York in the United States is 46 m (151 ft) high) bronze statue of Nero which stood near the amphitheatre of Vespasian (or Flavian amphitheatre) which is now known as the Colosseum after it. Many modern colossi are representations of Buddha and Bodhisattvas, and in Christian countries Jesus and his mother Mary, and other religious figures.

  • Figuratively, colossus may be used for any outstanding or dominant person in a particular field. Einstein was a colossus of physics; Maradona of association football. Shakespeare uses it in Julius Caesar, where Cassius describes Caesar's dominance: "Why, man, he doth bestride the narrow world/Like a Colossus" (I, ii, 135).
    • It may also mean simply 'a very large [person]', or 'a very large [anything], or 'an outstanding or dominant [anything]'.
  • Colossus is the root of colossal (spelled thus, with only the '-s-' doubled). This means 'very big', and can be used both literally and figuratively. Like 'gigantic' and 'Titanic', it incorporates a concept from the ancient world into a fossilized metaphor. In slang, it can be used for 'very good', 'I liked this a lot'. Don't use this sense in academic writing.
    • Colossus was used as the name of perhaps the first programmable digital computer. It was used for code-breaking at Bletchley Park during the Second World War from 1943 (the Mark II machines from 1944). Colossus was used to break the German Lorenz cypher; the Enigma codes were deciphered using the different special bombe machines.