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Hoi Polloi

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Hoi Polloi

Postby Flaminius » Sat Feb 11, 2006 4:51 am

Here is one of the Greek words I first came across in English.

hoi polloi
SYLLABICATION: hoi pol·loi
NOUN: The common people; the masses.
ETYMOLOGY: Greek, the many : hoi, nominative pl. of ho, the; see so- in Appendix I + polloi, nominative pl. of polus, many; see pel-1 in Appendix I.
USAGE NOTE: Hoi polloi is a borrowing of the Greek phrase hoi polloi, consisting of hoi, meaning “the” and used before a plural, and polloi, the plural of polus, “many.” In Greek hoi polloi had a special sense, “the greater number, the people, the commonalty, the masses.” This phrase has generally expressed this meaning in English since its first recorded instance, in an 1837 work by James Fenimore Cooper. Hoi polloi is sometimes incorrectly used to mean “the elite,” possibly because it is reminiscent of high and mighty or because it sounds like hoity-toity. •Since the Greek phrase includes an article, some critics have argued that the phrase the hoi polloi is redundant. But phrases borrowed from other languages are often reanalyzed in English as single words. For example, a number of Arabic noun phrases were borrowed into English as simple nouns. The Arabic element al– means “the,” and appears in English nouns such as alcohol and alchemy. Thus, since no one would consider a phrase such as “the alcohol” to be redundant, criticizing the hoi polloi on similar grounds seems pedantic.

Joining the article to the noun is not a common practise as regards this Hellenic plural. A Google search retrieves 323,000 records for "hoi polloi" and 21,000 for "hoipolloi."
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Postby Brazilian dude » Sat Feb 11, 2006 10:27 am

This is what Merriam-Webster's Concise Dictionary of English Usage says about hoi polloi:

1.Use with "the." Hoi polloi is a Greek term that literally means "the many." Its use in English stretches back to a time when a good education consisted largely of mastering Greek and Latin. Hoi polloi was adopted by the well-educated as a term for the unprivileged masses. Early on it was written in Greek letters:

... one or two others, with myself, put on masks, and went on the stage with the οι πολλοι - Lord Byron, Detached Thoughts, 1821

As its use became more widespread in the 19th century, the transliterated form hoi polloi (rarely oi polloi) came to be preferred:

After which the oi polloi are enrolled as they can find interest - James Fenimore Cooper, Gleanings from Europe, 1837 (OED Supplement)

The hoi polloi, as we say at Oxford, are mindless - all blank - Read & Reflect, 1855 (OED Supplement)

Proper usage of hoi polloi did not become a subject of controversy until the early 20th cenutry, when the argument that this term should not be preceded by the- because hoi literally means "the" - was advanced. This was a silly argument to begin with, since hoi has no meaning in English, and its earliest users, who actually knew Greek, always prefixed the phrase with the, and some writers do omit the:

... status-seeking moviegoers can now order from waiters, use private bahtrooms and generally avoid mixing with hoi polloi - Lisa Gubernick Wall Street Jour., 11 Dec. 1998

... Lord Wilson ... who looked visibly strained when dealing with hoi polloi - Stephen Vines, Manchester Guardian Weekly, 13 Sept. 1992

... where Old New York mixes with hoi polloi - New Yorker, 28 Nov. 1998

More writers retain the:
... wearing the badge sets one apart from the hoi polloi - Franklin Leonard, George, November 1997

When most of us apply for a passport, we have to stand in line for hours in a windowless government office, pressed against the hoi polloi - Eric Kongsberg, New Republic, 1 Mar. 1993

... designed so that dignitaries could reach their trains without having to brush shoulders with the hoi polloi - Alice Rubsintein Gochman, Gourmet, November 1990

... with a sigh, we resign ourselves to being part of the hoi polloi - Shirley Slater, Bon Appétit, April 1993

In summary, more writers keep the than omit it. A few italicize hoi polloi. All these methods are standard.

2.An issue about which there has been much less comment is the use of hoi polloi to mean "the snobby elite," a sense which is almost directly opposed to the term's original meaning. A few commentators (as Bernstein 1977, Bryson 1984, Garner 1998, and Heritage 2000) mention and censure this sense. It rarely occurs in print. Our earliest example is this one:

I could fly over to Europe and join the rich hoi polloi at Monte Carlo - Westbrook Pegler, Times News-Tribune (Tacoma, Wash.), 25 Sept. 1955

Since Pegler's time we have found only three or four more examples (Garner has a 1997 example). It appears, however, that his sense of hoi polloi is extremely common in speech. It has been reported to be well established in spoken use in such divese locales as central New Jersey, southern California, Cleveland, Ohio, and Las Vegas, Nevada. Several members of our editoral staff have also testified to its common occurrence. We do not know for certain how this new sense originated. Berstein 1977 speculates that it may have come about because of association of hoi with high. Another possibility is that the new sense developed out of the inherent snobbery of hoi polloi. In its original sense, hoi polloi is a term used by snobs or - more often - in mocking imitation of snobs. Even its sound has a quality of haughtiness and condescension (much like that of hoity-toity, a term that underwent a similar extension of meaning in the 20th century, from its former sense, "frivolous," to its current sense, "marked by an air of superiority"). It may be that people unfamiliar with the meaning of hoi polloi, but conscious of its strong association with snobbery, have misunderstood it as an arrogant term for the haves rather than a contemptuous term for the have-nots.

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