Hoi polloi

Hoi polloi

Hoi polloi (Greek: ), an expression meaning "the many" (literally: "the citizens") in Greek is used in English to denote "the masses" or "the people", usually in a derogatory sense. For example, "I've secured a private box for the play so we don't have to watch the show with hoi polloi." Synonyms for "hoi polloi" include "...commoners, great unwashed, minions, multitude, plebeians, proletariat, rabble, rank and file, riffraff, the common people, the herd, the many, the masses, the peons, the working class".cite book|url=http://thesaurus.reference.com/browse/Hoi%20polloi | title=Roget’s New Millennium Thesaurus |publisher=Lexico Publishing Group, LLC. | accessdate=2006-07-12]

The phrase became known to English scholars probably from Pericles' Funeral Oration, as mentioned in Thucydides' "History of the Peloponnesian War." Pericles uses it in a positive way when praising the Athenian democracy, contrasting it with "hoi oligoi", "the few" (Greek: polytonic|οἱ ὀλίγοι, see also "oligarchy") [Thucydides, "History of the Peloponnesian War", Book 2.34-46: "polytonic|καὶ ὄνομα μὲν διὰ τὸ μὴ ἐς ὀλίγους ἀλλ᾿ ἐς πλείονας οἰκεῖν δημοκρατία κέκληται " ("It is true that we are called a democracy, for the administration is in the hands of the many and not of the few").]

Its current English usage originated in the early 19th century, a time when it was generally accepted one must know Greek and Latin in order to be well educated.cite book| title=Review of The Scientist's Thesaurus: A Treasury of the Stock Words of Science by George F. Steffanides | author=Rexine, John E. | publisher=The Modern Language Journal, Vol. 62, No. 5/6 (Sep - Oct., 1978) | pages=291] cite web | url=http://www.lib.msu.edu/guides/subjects/history/british/britishleaflet.htm | title=British studies: the eighteenth century, a guide to topics in the Michigan state university libraries' collections | date=July 15, 2003 | accessdate=2007-01-15] cite web | url=http://www.translationdirectory.com/glossaries/glossary014_h.htm | publisher=Translation Directory.com | title=Glossary of Colloquialisms starting with "H" | accessdate=2007-01-15] The phrase was originally written in Greek letters.cite web | url=http://www.randomhouse.com/wotd/index.pperl?date=19981113 | title=The Maven's Word of the Day | date=November 13, 1998 | publisher=Random House | accessdate=2007-01-15] [Editors of Merriam-Webster's Collegiate Dictionary, Tenth Edition [http://www.jewishworldreview.com/1103/dictionary_men102803.asp "Blue plate special"; how to use "hoi polloi"; "Peck's Bad Boy"] October 28, 2003, Jewish World Review.] [Lord ByronPolytonic| [http://engphil.astate.edu/gallery/byron4.html Lord Byron's Letters and Journals] November 24, 1813.] Knowledge of these languages would serve to set apart the speaker from the common people who did not have that education.

The phrase has been the source of controversy over its correct usage. There has been debate as to whether it is correct usage to include the English article "the" in front of the phrase, as is commonly done. [Google search for "the hoi polloi." [http://www.google.com/search?hl=en&q=%22the+hoi+polloi%22&btnG=Search] ]

Questions on usage

Since "hoi" means "the", it might be said that the common usage of "the hoi polloi" contains a redundancy. However, this latter usage is well-established and it is often the case that phrases borrowed from other languages become treated as single words in English. [ [http://dictionary.reference.com/search?q=hoi%20polloi American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language, Fourth Edition] .] "The Chicago Manual of Style" considers the usage "the hoi polloi" to be the standard usage. [ [http://www.chicagomanualofstyle.org/ "The Chicago Manual of Style"] , University of Chicago.] (Merriam) Webster's Dictionary of English Usage says:

Other defenders of using "the" in front of the phrase cite examples such as "Alcohol" or "Algebra" or "Algorithm" which are Arabic-derived words with the "Al" denoting "the."cite web | url=http://wordsmith.org/words/hoi_polloi.html | publisher=Wordsmith.org | title=A.Word. A.Day—hoi polloi | accessdate=2007-01-15] Detractors of this argument point out that if this were the case, that "hoi polloi" would become a single word "hoipolloi" or hyphenated "hoi-polloi."cite web | title=HOI POLLOI: Word of the Day | url=http://kmecholsky.multiply.com/journal | date=November 25, 2006 | accessdate=2007-01-15]

Since the 1950s the phrase has been misused to refer to the upper class, which is the opposite of its actual meaning. [ [http://www.wordsmith.org/board/showflat.pl?Cat=&Board=words&Number=32827&page=12&view=collapsed&sb=1 A Word A Day] .] [http://www.online-literature.com/forums/showpost.php?p=100982&postcount=84 The Literature Network] .] It has been speculated that this usage has arisen due to similarity between the phrase "hoi polloi" and "high" or "hoity toity." [ [http://www.wsu.edu/~brians/errors/hoipolloi.html Hoi Polloi] ] [ [http://www.bartleby.com/61/55/H0235500.html Bartelby] ]


The reason that the English transliteration of the phrase is "Hoi Polloi" and not "Oi Polloi" as one would presume from a visual inspection of the Greek letters, is the spiritus asper on top of iota "(polytonic|῾)", which denotes an initial "h" sound (the diacritics are always placed on top of the second letter of a diphthong). In Modern Greek, the "h" is no longer pronounced and the diacritics of polytonic orthography have been dropped in favour of monotonic orthography, thus the phrase is written "οι πολλοί".cite web | url=http://www.ichthys.com/Tribulation_Part_3A.pdf | title=The Coming Tribulation: a History of the Apocalypse | author=Luginbill , Dr. Robert D. | publisher=Inchthys | accessdate=2007-01-15 | format=PDF]


The phrase has three different pronunciations:

English speakers pronounce it IPAEng|ˌhɔɪ pəˈlɔɪ "HOY puh-LOY".

Ancient Greek speakers pronounced it IPA2|hoi polˈloi). Notice that double-λ is pronounced as such and that Ancient Greek prosody has disappeared.

Modern Greek speakers pronounce it IPA| [i poˈli] "ee poe-LEE," since in Modern Greek there is no aspiration and "οι" is pronounced "ee" (all Ancient Greek diphthongs are now pronounced as monophthongs). Greek Cypriots still pronounce the double-λ (IPA| [i polˈli] ). [cite web | url=http://www.athensnews.gr/paideia/1pai4.htm | title=The chicken and the egg: the pluralism of Greek spelling | publisher=Athens News | accessdate=2007-01-15]

Appearances in the 19th Century

There have been numerous uses of the term in the English Literature. James Fenimore Cooper, author of "The Last of the Mohicans", is often credited with making the first recorded usage of the term in English. [ [http://dictionary.reference.com/search?q=hoi%20polloi American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language, Fourth Edition] .] The first recorded use by Cooper occurs in his 1837 work "Gleanings from Europe" where he writes "After which the oi polloi are enrolled as they can find interest." [Cooper, James Fenimore "Gleanings from Europe," 1837.]

In actuality Lord Byron previously used the term in his letters and journal. In one letter, dated 24 November 1813, Byron writes "I have not answered W. Scott's last letter,—but I will. I regret to hear from others, that he has lately been unfortunate in pecuniary involvements. He is undoubtedly the Monarch of Parnassus, and the most English of bards. I should place Rogers next in the living list (I value him more as the last of the best school) —Moore and Campbell both third—Southey and Wordsworth and Coleridge—the rest, οι πολλοί [hoi polloi in Greek] —thus:— ("see image reproduced on this page"). [cite web|url=http://www.gutenberg.org/dirs/etext05/8bpt110.txt | author = Byron, George Gordon, 6th Baron Byron | title=Byron's 1813 diary |work=Project Gutenberg |access-date=2006-06-13]

Byron also wrote an 1821 entry in his journal "... one or two others, with myself, put on masks, and went on the stage with the 'oi polloi." [Lord Byron "Detached Thoughts", 1821.]

W. S. Gilbert used the term in 1882 when he wrote the libretto of the comic opera Iolanthe. In Act I, the following exchange occurs between a group of disgruntled fairies who are arranging to elevate a lowly shepherd to the peerage, and members of the House of Lords who will not hear of such a thing.

:PEERS: Our lordly style ::You shall not quench ::With base canaille!

:FAIRIES: (That word is French.)

:PEERS: Distinction ebbs ::Before a herd ::Of vulgar plebs!

:FAIRIES: (A Latin word.)

:PEERS: 'Twould fill with joy, ::And madness stark ::The hoi polloi!

:FAIRIES: (A Greek remark.)

Gilbert's parallel use of "canaille", "plebs" ("plebeians"), and "hoi polloi" makes it clear that the term is derogatory of the lower classes. It's also worth noting that in many versions of the vocal score, it is written as "οἱ πολλοί", confusing generations of amateur choristers.

John Dryden used the phrase in his Essay of Dramatick Poesie, published in 1668. Dryden spells the phrase with Greek letters, but the rest of the sentence is in English (and he does precede it with "the").

Appearances in the 20th Century

The term has appeared in several film and radio programs. One of the earliest short films from the Three Stooges was a 1935 film titled "Hoi Polloi". The film opens on an exclusive restaurant where two wealthy gentlemen are arguing whether heredity or environment is more important in shaping character. [ [http://movies2.nytimes.com/gst/movies/movie.html?v_id=228988 New York Times Movies] ] They make a bet and pick on nearby trashmen (the Stooges) to prove their theory. At the conclusion of three months in training, the Stooges attend a dinner party, where they thoroughly embarrass the professors.

The University of Dayton's Don Morlan says, "The theme in these shorts of the Stooges against the rich," says Morlan, "is bringing the rich down to their level and shaking their heads." A typical Stooges joke from the film would be when someone addressed them as "Gentlemen," they would look over their shoulders to see who was meant. [von Busack, Richard, [http://www.ratical.org/ratville/3stooges75yrs.html Pure Slap Shtik] "Metro Santa Cruz" - January 16-22, 1997.] Three Stooges turn the tables on their hosts by calling them "hoi polloi" at the end.

The term continues to be used in contemporary writing. In his 1983 introduction to Robert Anton Wilson's "Prometheus Rising", Israel Regardie writes, "Once I was even so presumptuous as to warn (Wilson) in a letter that his humor was much too good to waste on hoi polloi who generally speaking would not understand it and might even resent it." [Regardie, Israel [http://www.solharvest.com/cclosers/RAWilson-Prometheus.pdf Introduction] "Prometheus" 1983.]

The term "hoi polloi" was used in a dramatic scene in the 1989 movie Dead Poets Society. In this scene, Professor Keating speaks negatively about the use of the article "the" in front of the phrase:

:Keating: This is battle, boys. War! Your souls are at a critical juncture. Either you will succumb to the hoi polloi and the fruit will die on the vine—or you will triumph as individuals. It may be a coincidence that part of my duties are to teach you about Romanticism, but let me assure you that I take the task quite seriously. You will learn what this school wants you to learn in my class, but if I do my job properly, you will also learn a great deal more. You will learn to savor language and words because they are the stepping stones to everything you might endeavor to do in life and do well. A moment ago I used the term 'hoi polloi.' Who knows what it means? Come on, Overstreet, you twirp. (laughter) Anderson, are you a man or a boil?

:Anderson shakes his head "no", but Meeks raises his hands and speaks: "The hoi polloi. Doesn't it mean the herd?"

:Keating: Precisely, Meeks. Greek for the herd. However, be warned that, when you say "the hoi polloi" you are actually saying "the the herd." Indicating that you too are "hoi polloi". [Schulman, Tom [http://www.ellopos.net/education/writersword_schulman_deadpoetsociety.htm Excerpts from the script] of Dead Poets Society.]

Keating's tone makes clear that he considers this statement to be an insult. He himself had used the phrase "the hoi polloi.'", so he also makes the same mistake he warned against.

The term also used in the 1980 comedy Caddyshack. In a rare moment of cleverness, Spaulding Smails greets Danny Noonan as he arrives for the christening of The Flying Wasp, the boat belonging to Judge Smails (Spaulding's grandfather), with "Ahoy, polloi!" This is particularly ironic, because Danny has just finished mowing the Judge's lawn, and arrives overdressed, wearing a sailboat captain's outfit (as the girl seated next to him points out, Danny "looks like Dick Cavett").

Todd Rundgren's band Utopia offers up a song titled "Hoi Polloi" on the 1980 album Deface the Music, in which all of the songs are written and performed in the style of The Beatles.

In the song "Risingson" on Massive Attack's "Mezzanine" album, the singer apparently appeals to his company to leave the club they're in, deriding the common persons' infatuation with them, and implying that he's about to slide into antisocial behaviour:

:"Toy-like people make me boy-like (...) And everything you got, hoi polloi like Now you're lost and you're lethal And now's about the time you gotta leave all These good people...dream on." [Alwaysontherun.net. " [http://www.alwaysontherun.net/massive.htm#mez2 Risingson] ". Accessed on 14 February 2007.]

In an episode of This American Life, radio host Ira Glass uses the term hoi polloi while relaying a story about a woman who believes the letter 'q' should occur later in the alphabet. He goes on to say that "Q does not belong in the middle of the alphabet where it is, with the hoi polloi of the alphabet, with your 'm' 'n' and 'p'. Letters that will just join any word for the asking."

The term was used in a first-series episode (The New Vicar, aired 5 November 1990) of the British sitcom Keeping Up Appearances. The main character, Hyacinth Bucket, gets into a telephone argument with a bakery employee. When the employee abruptly hangs up in frustration, Hyacinth disparagingly refers to him as "hoi polloi." This is in keeping with her character; she looks down upon those she considers to be of lesser social standing, including working-class people. [Keeping Up Appearances 02 - Welcoming The Dishy Vicar " [http://www.divxmoviesenglishsubtitles.com/K/Keeping_Up_Appearances_02_-_Welcoming_The_Dishy_Vicar.html] ". Accessed on 11 May 2007.]

* Hoi Polloi was used in Larry Marder's Tales of the Beanworld to name the unusual group of creatures that lived beneath the Beanworld. [cite news | url=http://www.rdrop.com/~half/BeanWeb/Glossary.html | title=Larry Marder’s Tales of the Beanworld - The Beanworld Glossary | work=RDrop.com | accessdate=2008-02-06]

Appearances in the 21st Century

The August 14, 2001 episode of CNN's "Larry King Live" program included a discussion about whether the sport of polo was an appropriate part of the image of the British Royal Family. Joining King on the program were "best-selling biographer and veteran royal watcher Robert Lacey" and Kitty Kelley, author of the book "The Royals". Their discussions focused on Prince Charles and his son Prince William.

:Lacey said, "There is another risk that I see in polo. Polo is a very nouveau riche, I think, rather vulgar game. I can say that having played it myself, and I don't think it does Prince Charles's image, or, I dare say, this is probably arrogant of me, his spirit any good. I don't think it is a good thing for him to be involved in. I also, I'm afraid, don't think [polo] is a good thing for [Charles] to be encouraging his sons to get involved in. It is a very "playboy" set. We saw Harry recently all night clubbing, and why not, some might say, playing polo down in the south of Spain. I think the whole polo syndrome is something that the royal family would do very well to get uninvolved with as soon as possible.

:King turned the question to Kelley, saying, "Kitty, it is kind of hoi polloi, although it is an incredible sport in which, I have been told, that the horse is 80 percent of the game, the rider 20 percent. But it is a great sport to watch. But it is hoi polloi isn't it?"

:To which Kelley replied, "Yes, I do agree with Robert. The time is come and gone for the royals to be involved with polo. I mean it is – it just increases that dissipated aristo-image that they have, and it is too bad to encourage someone like Prince William to get involved." [ [http://transcripts.cnn.com/TRANSCRIPTS/0108/14/lkl.00.html Larry King Live] ]

This conversation associating polo with the hoi polloi is surprising. On a stone tablet next to a polo ground in Gilgit, north of Kashmir, near the fabled silk route from China to the West is inscribed the verse "Let other people play at other things — the King of Games is still the Game of Kings". Polo is still referred to as the Game of Kings. [ [http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/middle_east/4272210.stm Polo Comes Back Home to Iran] - BBC 22 September 2005.] The modern sport has had difficulty grappling with the traditional social and economic exclusivity commonly associated with a game that is inevitably expensive when played at a serious level. Still, it is clear that they are using hoi polloi in its correct meaning as Lacey calls the sport "vulgar" and Kelley says that the time for royals to be involved in polo has "come and gone".

The term also appears in the 2003 Broadway musical "Wicked", where it is used by the characters Elphaba and Glinda to refer to the many inhabitants of the Emerald City: "... I wanna be in this hoi polloi ..."cite web | title=Wicked Lyrics - "One Short Day" | url=http://www.musicalschwartz.com/wicked-lyrics-9.htm | work=musicalschwartz.com | accessdate=2007-01-15 | author=Schwartz, Stephen]

Jack Cafferty, a CNN anchorman, was caught misusing the term. On 9 December 2004 he retracted his statement, saying "And hoi-polloi refers to common people, not those rich morons that are evicting those two red-tail hawks (ph) from that 5th Avenue co-op. I misused the word hoi-polloi. And for that I humbly apologize." [ [http://transcripts.cnn.com/TRANSCRIPTS/0412/09/ltm.04.html American Morning Transcript] ]

New media and new inventions have also been described as being by or for the hoi polloi. Bob Garfield, co-host of NPR's "On the Media" program, 8 November 2005, used the phrase in reference to evolving practices in the media, especially Wikipedia, "The people in the encyclopedia business, I understand, tend to sniff at the wiki process as being the product of the mere hoi polloi." [ [http://www.onthemedia.org/transcripts/transcripts_070805_rewrite.html On the Media] ] The blog "Isengard.gov" referred to the $100 PC project as being for kids and the hoi polloi. The post went on to refer to the correct usage of the phrase, "*Although we at Isengard.gov are using the Greek phrase hoi polloi in its correct meaning of "the common people," rather than the incorrect but more hoi-polloish meaning of "the hoity-toities," "the fancy-living types," the "ravenous blood-sucking leeches fattening their stomachs on the backs of the masses," or "THE ARISTOCRATS!," it does not, in and of itself, indicate that we are insufferable smarty-pants. That may be established by independent means." [User "Sea Lord" - [http://eisengeiste.blogspot.com/2005_09_01_eisengeiste_archive.html The Handcranked Laptop] Isengard.gov 29 September 2005]

Duran Duran lead singer and lyricist Simon le Bon has included the phrase in the band's song Skin Divers from their November release Red Carpet Massacre": "Fighting on the shore, The hoi polloi want more, Howling bloody murder, but it's nothing just a murmur". [cite news | url=http://www.metrolyrics.com/skin-divers-lyrics-duran-duran.html | title="Skin Divers" lyrics | work=Metro Lyrics.com | accessdate=2008-02-06]

List of 21st century commercial uses

The phrase Hoi Polloi has been used to promote products and businesses. As described by the "Pittsburgh Dish", the name "Hoi Polloi" may be chosen to indicate that the brand or service will appeal to the "common people". [cite news | url=http://pittsburghdish.typepad.com/pittsburgh_dish/north_side/index.html | title=The Dish on Dish: Hoi Polloi | work=Pittsburgh Dish | date=January 28, 2008 | accessdate=2008-02-06]
*Hoi Polloi is the name of many businesses, including a theatre company based in Cambridge in the United Kingdom, [ [http://www.hoipolloi.org.uk/ Hoipolloi Theatre] .] an up and coming theatre company in New York, a dance group based in New York City, [ [http://www.hoipolloi.org/ Hoi Polloi dance group] .] a woman's boutique in New Orleans, Louisiana, [ [http://www.hoipolloiboutique.com/ Hoi Polloi boutique] .] a film crew in the United Kingdom, [ [http://www.filmcrew.co.uk/ Hoi Polloi film crew] .] and a global telecommunications company. [cite news | url=http://goliath.ecnext.com/coms2/gi_0199-5927720/Hoi-Polloi-Makes-It-Possible.html | title=Hoi Polloi Makes It Possible for Free Calls to China, Hong Kong (Mobile), Singapore, and Numerous Other Countries from the U.S. | work=ECNext.com | accessdate=2008-02-06]
*Oi Polloi is a Scottish anarcho-punk group, whose name is a pun on the term, and also Oi! music. Hoi Polloi was an alternative gospel band from New Zealand.
*Hoi Polloi is a Marketing Communications blog by Angelo Fernando, a business writer covering technology, marketing, and interactive media. [cite news | url=http://hoipolloi.typepad.com/ | title=Hoi Polloi | work=Typepad.com | accessdate=2008-02-06]
* "Hoi Polloi" is the title of a literary journal produced by Dog Days Press in Massachusetts. [cite news | title=hoi polloi - A Literary Journal for the Rest of Us | work=Lulu.com | author=McNulty, Robert | accessdate=2008-02-06]
* "Ahoi Polloi" is the name of a well-known german cartoon blog [cite news | url=http://ahoipolloi.blogger.de/ | title=Ahoi Polloi | work=blogger.de | accessdate=2008-09-16]

The phrase has also been used in commercial works as the name a race of people.
* "hoi polli" is used by the character Kindle in the video game "". [cite news | url=http://www.gamefaqs.com/portable/ds/file/924889/39218 | title=Advance Wars: Dual Strike - Game Script v1.01 | work=GameFaqs.com | date=December 2005 | accessdate=2008-02-06]
*Scientology founder L. Ron Hubbard claimed the existence of a race of extra-terrestrial invaders known as the Hoipolloi.


External links

* [http://groups.google.com/groups/search?q=Hoi+polloi&qt_s=Search+Groups Usenet discussion on (hoi polloi)]

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Look at other dictionaries:

  • hoi polloi — The normal construction is the hoi polloi, meaning ‘the masses, the common people’. The fact that hoi in the original Greek expression (literally ‘the many’) already means ‘the’ is therefore ignored; objection to this now seems pedantic, is… …   Modern English usage

  • hoi polloi — 1837, from Gk. hoi polloi (pl.) the people, lit. the many (pl. of polys; see POLY (Cf. poly )). Used in Greek by Dryden (1668) and Byron (1822), in both cases preceded by the, even though Gk. hoi means the, a mistake repeated often by subsequent… …   Etymology dictionary

  • hoi polloi — [hoi′pə loi′] n. [Gr, lit., the many] the common people; the masses: usually patronizing or contemptuous: sometimes preceded by the …   English World dictionary

  • hoi polloi — [n] the masses commonality, commoners, common people, rank and file, the herd, the multitude, the proletariat, the working class; concepts 379,417 …   New thesaurus

  • hoi polloi — ► PLURAL NOUN derogatory ▪ the common people. ORIGIN Greek, the many …   English terms dictionary

  • hoi polloi — /hɔɪ pəˈlɔɪ / (say hoy puh loy) noun the, the common people; the masses: *she should on no account travel down to Sydney with the hoi polloi aboard the packet. –peter carey, 1988. {Greek oi the + polloi many} Usage: This Greek borrowing… …  

  • hoi polloi — This is a Greek term meaning the masses, the many. If you use it, do not say the hoi polloi, because hoi is Greek for the : This dictator thinks of everyone in the country as hoi polloi …   Dictionary of problem words and expressions

  • hoi polloi —    Two problems here. The first is that hoi polloi means the masses, the common populace, and not the elite, as is often thought. The second problem is that in Greek hoi means the so to speak of the hoi polloi is tantamount to saying the the… …   Dictionary of troublesome word

  • hoi polloi — [[t]hɔ͟ɪ pəlɔ͟ɪ[/t]] N PLURAL If someone refers to the hoi polloi, they are referring in a humorous or rather rude way to ordinary people, in contrast to rich, well educated, or upper class people. Monstrously inflated costs are designed to keep… …   English dictionary

  • hoi polloi — [ˌhɔɪ pɒ lɔɪ] plural noun derogatory the common people. Origin C17: Gk, lit. the many . Usage Strictly speaking, the phrase hoi polloi translates as ‘the many’. Some traditionalists insist that it should not be used with the, since that would be… …   English new terms dictionary

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