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Hoi Polloi

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861213.  Mon Oct 31, 2011 2:22 pm Reply with quote

Many moons ago I recall being told on these boards that 'hoi polloi' was not in fact derived from the Greek for people of the town (the many) despite my assertion that it was, rough breathing and all. The post no longer exists but I have not forgotten, oh no indeed.

So now, a few years down the road, the web has moved on a bit and since I have had cause to use the expression hoi polloi again...

Hoi polloi (Ancient Greek: οἱ πολλοί), an expression meaning "the many", or in the strictest sense, "the majority" in Greek, is used in English to denote "the masses" or "the people", usually in a derogatory sense. Synonyms for "hoi polloi" include "... commoners, great unwashed, minions, multitude, plebeians, rank and file, riff-raff, the common people, the herd, the many, the plebs, the proles, the peons, the working class".

This term is of Greek origin and a literal translation from the Greek οἱ πολλοί is 'the many'. There are many examples of it in print in its original Greek form, dating back to the 17th century. The earliest known is a 1668 essay by John Dryden - Of dramatick poesie:

"If by the people you understand the multitude, the οἱ πολλοί"

Many believe that this term was adopted into English by the American writer James Fenimore Cooper. He did use 'hoi polloi' in his Gleanings from Europe in 1837, but before then it was in common use by those whom we might expect to have been familiar with classical Greek - scholars of Oxford and Cambridge universities. For instance, the various classes of degree of Cambridge's Mathematical Tripos were Wranglers and Senior and Junior Optimes (what we would now call First, Second and Third Class), followed by Hoi Polloi - also called Poll Men or Polloi Men.

So there.

: p

861236.  Mon Oct 31, 2011 5:22 pm Reply with quote

Wasn't the previous discussion about the use of "the hoi polloi"? That is a redundant tautology, because hoi is itself a form of the definite article.

861300.  Tue Nov 01, 2011 12:30 am Reply with quote

I remember being told that the expression wasn't Greek in origin however I don't recall anything about the tautology being discussed. That doesn't necessarily mean it wasn't mentioned but if it was denied that it was Greek then it wouldn't have the meaning 'the many' so the tautology wouldn't arise.


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