One of the mysteries of the English language finally explained.
plural nounusually the hoi polloi
The masses; the common people.‘avoid mixing with the hoi polloi’
the masses, the common people, the populace, the public, the people, the multitude, the rank and file, the lower orders, the crowd, the commonality, the commonalty, the commons, the third estate, the plebeiansView synonyms
- ‘Unfortunately, too often, it is the liberals who believe that they should run the country because they're superior to the hoi polloi.’
- ‘Essentially, he came out sounding like a high priest offended that the hoi polloi were infringing on his turf.’
- ‘She says half her daily calls are from angry residents who can't believe they have to share the sidewalk with the hoi polloi.’
- ‘But the thing about democracy is that it's supposed to keep a lid on the worst impulses of the ruling class by allowing the hoi polloi to be involved in the process.’
- ‘There is always a tendency for the political class to assume that they always know better than the hoi polloi what is right and proper, and to assume that therefore they are entitled to make decisions on behalf of the rest.’
- ‘Apparently it's too risky to divulge to the hoi polloi where money is spent.’
- ‘There is something humbling about watching the great and the good do things normally reserved for the hoi polloi.’
- ‘Yesterday's announcement made it clear they no longer want to engage with the hoi polloi.’
- ‘They've had centuries to do little but perfect the small talk required when meeting the hoi polloi who pay for their increasingly bizarre visits.’
- ‘In one of the rooms my father started a conversation with one of the elderly ladies who were standing sentinel to make sure that the hoi polloi didn't walk off with the silverware.’
Hoi polloi is sometimes used incorrectly to mean ‘upper class’, i.e. the exact opposite of its normal meaning. It seems likely that the confusion arose by association with the similar-sounding but otherwise unrelated word hoity-toity. To those in the know, hoi is the Greek word for the definite article the (nominative masculine plural); the phrase hoi polloi thus translates as ‘the many’. This knowledge has led some traditionalists to insist that hoi polloi should not be used in English with the, since that would be to state the word the twice. Such arguments miss the point: once established in English, expressions such as hoi polloi are treated as a fixed unit and are subject to the rules and conventions of English. Evidence shows that use with the has now become an accepted part of standard English usage.
Mid 17th century: Greek, literally ‘the many’.
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