Definition of plebeian in English:



  • 1(in ancient Rome) a commoner.

    • ‘After all, plebeians in ancient Rome were forced to fight against one another - the games of death were hardly an insurrectionary force on their own.’
    • ‘In ancient Rome clients were plebeians who were bound in a subservient relationship with their patrician patron.’
    • ‘All this may look democratic, but in 300 he opposed the admission of plebeians to the two main priestly colleges (pontifices and augures) and on two occasions attempted to secure the election of an all-patrician college.’
    • ‘In 494 B.C., the plebeians threatened to leave Rome and set up their own independent state (concilium plebis).’
    • ‘Oppressed, as they thought, by the patricians, the plebeians in a body walked out of Rome and set themselves up on a neighbouring hill.’
    1. 1.1 A member of the lower social classes.
      ‘the feeling was shared by plebeians, gentry, and clergy’
      • ‘Long after the autumn of 1880, far more plebeians than patricians experienced the pain of this communal punishment.’
      • ‘Every time the government attempted to regulate the gin trade, plebeians rioted in the streets, preachers thundered in pulpits and pamphlets, and, in back-alley dram shops, things continued much as they had before.’
      • ‘It had nothing to do with militarism or with the violent sports that had brought aristocrats and plebeians together around the prize-fight or cock-fight.’
      • ‘It wasn't that I was smart; I just grasped the normal concepts better than the rest of the vapid plebeians who cared more about that one pimple on their forehead.’
      • ‘But we do not have to go to such extremes - in either cost or category - to prove that patricians love posing as plebeians.’
      • ‘Were Wallace's limbs, on poles above Scottish gatehouses, meant as a sign to Edward's Scottish allies that they could deal likewise with uppity plebeians?’
      • ‘Even the plebeians are people and should not be spurned or provoked.’
      • ‘Sharp divisions are established by law between patricians and plebeians.’
      • ‘As a result, bullfighting was left to the plebeians who in turn enthusiastically took up to its practice, and took it to heart as a symbol of something genuinely Spanish.’
      • ‘For example, historians of the boulevard theater have seen the elite jostle plebeians.’
      proletarian, commoner, common person, man in the street, person in the street, woman in the street, working-class person, worker, working person
      View synonyms


  • 1Of or belonging to the commoners of ancient Rome.

    • ‘Plebeian children would follow in the career of their parents.’
    • ‘In the larger cities (above all Rome and Ostia) there were also examples of more plebeian housing, generally small in size and located on the first floor of the large residences that occupied entire city blocks.’
    • ‘Offices required popular election, and tribunes represented a plebeian constituency.’
    • ‘He was plebeian aedile 199 and praetor 198, when he may have carried the Porcian law which extended the right of provocatio (appeal to the people against the action of a magistrate) to cases of scourging.’
    1. 1.1 Of or belonging to the lower social classes.
      ‘two dancers, one royal and one plebeian’
      • ‘Oligarchies are established through these alliances and society is divided between patrician rulers and plebeian slaves.’
      • ‘At the heart of the movement was a small but determined band of plebeian intellectuals and activists who organized and led the movement and linked it up to national leaders and organizations.’
      • ‘For the moment then, the TV executive who discriminated against me because of my plebeian roots is probably safe to continue discriminating against other cheeky upstarts.’
      • ‘How quaint to find this plebeian trait alive and well in Starkey.’
      • ‘From my plebeian perch in rural Mississippi, I have observed the actions of this administration with a kind of detached concern.’
      • ‘Her case studies only work if a crucial element, ‘custom,’ is defined as habitual practice or used to refer to plebeian feasts and festivals.’
      • ‘Chiefly, such activities were processional - arrivals of ambassadors and potentates, with plebeian doings relegated to the wings.’
      • ‘For example, the decline of ‘low dives,’ where working-class men had celebrated toughness and ferocity, undercut some of the aggressive rituals of plebeian culture.’
      • ‘Bystanders, assailants, and victims typically attributed deadly saloon brawls to violations of or challenges to the rules of plebeian culture.’
      • ‘The traditional plebeian population, with its long radical ‘producerist’ traditions, had to confront the competition of these new immigrants at the same time that their trades were being deskilled or replaced by machine production.’
      • ‘He was also vigilant in his study of young plebeian women bathing.’
      • ‘After 1848 plebeian intellectuals and activists in Ashton and other localities retreated into the quietist world of democratic dinners, lectures, and education.’
      • ‘In the working-class saloons that lined the roughest sections of late nineteenth-century Chicago, refusing a man's treat violated rules of plebeian sociability and thus frequently triggered brawls.’
      • ‘In short, the existence of a long tradition of plebeian radicalism and its cultural and institutional expression are undoubtedly of great significance.’
      • ‘Amid abandoned houses, plebeian hovels and piles of refuse and sewage, there were government offices, arms factories, official warehouses, and active markets.’
      • ‘For him, elites abandoned the customary culture, and it became largely plebeian after 1750.’
      • ‘Yet he seems oblivious to the fact that he is out of his element in the vulgar, plebeian world of the Victorian stage.’
      • ‘Yet the book itself is also ‘low-descended’ - modest in its stylistic pretensions and happy to risk a plebeian status as an unrefined work.’
      • ‘Many of these were intellectuals, who had suffered imprisonment and internal exile or lived for periods abroad, whose values were very different from those of plebeian incomers.’
      • ‘If realism is bourgeois for Lukács, it is plebeian for Auerbach.’
      • ‘This came with being a writer ‘of plebeian origin’.’
      lower-class, low-class, working-class, proletarian, common, peasant, mean, humble, lowly, low, of low birth, low-born, low-ranking, ignoble, undistinguished
      View synonyms
    2. 1.2 Lacking in refinement.
      ‘he is a man of plebeian tastes’
      • ‘Throughout the meal, the footmen had been replenishing wine bottles and refreshing beer glasses with brisk regularity, the steady supply of alcohol charging the expectant atmosphere with a soupçon of ruddy-faced plebeian rowdiness.’
      • ‘Nothing bought matches the home-chosen, home-grown and freshly picked, from the exotic - bursting figs and peaches - down to the plebeian potato.’
      • ‘His feet are, after all, a rather plebeian size 10.’
      • ‘This is a point of view which is all too familiar and one which, to use a distressingly plebeian phrase, gets right up my nose.’
      • ‘It is terrible, this aggressively plebeian culture that celebrates itself for being plebeian.’
      • ‘The use of colour is striking, jumping from violent red and black to smudgy warm interiors that contain artistic treasures, or the white utilitarian rooms of plebeian offices.’
      • ‘You can also use the more plebeian methods including posting in forums and furnishing articles for the various article directories.’
      uncultured, uncultivated, unrefined, lowbrow, philistine, uneducated, unpolished, provincial, rustic
      View synonyms


Mid 16th century: from Latin plebeius (from plebs, pleb- ‘the common people’) + -an.