Hoi Polloi

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Dr. Goodword
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Hoi Polloi

Postby Dr. Goodword » Tue Feb 05, 2019 7:54 am

• hoi polloi •

Pronunciation: hoy-pê-loy • Hear it!

Part of Speech: Noun, mass (no plural)

Meaning: The masses of people, ordinary folk, the Plain Janes and Joe Sixpacks of the world who live life in the slow lane.

Notes: It is common in English to refer to the masses as the hoi polloi even though, as today's History will show, hoi means "the" in Greek. The hoi is not redundant in English because hoi does not mean "the" in English; it is simply the first syllable of a word that should be spelled as one. When we borrow a word from another language, the grammar of that language does not come with it. The fact that hoi means "the" in Greek is as irrelevant to English as the fact that the al in algebra means "the" in Arabic.

In Play: Resist the temptation to confuse today's word with the adjective, hoity-toity "pretentious, affecting gentility". Hoi polloi is slightly less deprecating: "Tommy Beamer drives around in his hoity-toity BMW just to impress the hoi polloi like us." Hoi polloi is often used as a contrast to individualism: "Biff Wellington likes to wear a tie to work to distinguish himself from the hoi polloi."

Word History: Today's word is the Greek phrase hoi polloi "the many," where polloi is the plural of polus "many". This is the same word we use as the prefix poly- in words like polyglot "speaker of many languages" and polygon "figure with many angles". The same root provided Latin plenus "full" that lies at the base of English plenty. This root also came directly into English as full and, with a suffix -k, emerged as another word meaning "hoi polloi"—English folk. (The voice that rose above the hoi polloi to suggest today's Good Word belongs to Riutaro F. Aida, a Senior Lexiterian in the Agora.)
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George Kovac
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Re: Hoi Polloi

Postby George Kovac » Tue Feb 05, 2019 11:07 am

When we borrow a word from another language, the grammar of that language does not come with it.
True that. That is certainly the case when borrowing isolated words or phrases.

But what if you borrow a whole language? The result can be more complicated, with the new language serving as a palimpsest of the language that it replaced.

Here’s a fascinating example: “There are no true caesuras in history: there is always some kind of continuum (a truth rather beautifully illustrated by the discovery in 2011 that in remote settlements around Trebizond villagers were speaking Turkish but with the grammar of the ancient Greeks.)” Istanbul: A Tale of Three Cities, by Bettany Hughes
"The messy layers of human experience get pulled together, and sometimes ordered, by words." Colum McCann, But Always Meeting Ourselves, NYT 6/15/09

tkowal
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Re: Hoi Polloi

Postby tkowal » Wed Feb 06, 2019 8:57 am

When we borrow a word from another language, the grammar of that language does not come with it.
It seems that sometimes a bit of the grammar does come with word borrowings, like the plurals: antannae (Latin), automata (Greek), cherubim (Hebrew). I am not a linguist but I suspect that usual English plurals terminating in 's' or 'es' come from French, unlike other Germanic languages.

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Re: Hoi Polloi

Postby George Kovac » Wed Feb 06, 2019 4:53 pm

We treat the grammar of borrowed words inconsistently, and the use of definite articles can be tricky.

The "Al-" in "Alhambra" (the Muslim era fortress in Granada, Spain) means "the" in Arabic, but this is ignored in general usage in both English and Spanish, where the name is normally given the definite article. The official name of the capital of Egypt is al-Qāhirah  meaning "the Vanquisher" or "the Conqueror,” but in English it is simply “Cairo.” And then there is algebra, from the Arabic al-jabr, which gets no redundant article in English.

The capital of Cuba is La Habana, but in English, it’s just Havana.

I grew up in Chicago where the elevated commuter trains are always referred to as “the el” (short for “elevated”). I now live in Miami where the elevated commuter trains are known as “the metro.” A goal of mine is to merge my childhood and adult vocabulary while embracing the bilingual culture of Miami by convincing my fellow residents to refer to our trains as “el el.”
"The messy layers of human experience get pulled together, and sometimes ordered, by words." Colum McCann, But Always Meeting Ourselves, NYT 6/15/09

Audiendus
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Re: Hoi Polloi

Postby Audiendus » Wed Feb 06, 2019 11:06 pm

We normally refer to mountains as "Mount ___" or a foreign equivalent (e.g. "Mont Blanc"), or by their name alone (e.g. "Everest"). However, we refer to mountains in German-speaking countries as "the ___" (e.g. the Matterhorn, the Eiger, the Jungfrau, the Grossglockner).

Then there is the strange case of Concorde (the aircraft), which we normally refer to without an article, as if the planes were uncountable! (There were actually 20 built.)

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call_copse
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Re: Hoi Polloi

Postby call_copse » Thu Feb 07, 2019 7:40 am

Nice discussion, thanks all.

What I'm getting is that English, a very inconsistent language at the best of times, is especially inconsistent when it comes to borrowings. It's stubbornly inconsistent in almost every case, especially in it's inconsistency. Never try to pin down my methods! is it's battle cry.
Iain

gwray
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Re: Hoi Polloi

Postby gwray » Thu Feb 21, 2019 12:16 pm

Those interested in the "rules" of the English language might be interested in books by Steven Pinker. I can particularly recommend Words and Rules, and The Stuff of Thought.

https://stevenpinker.com/taxonomy/term/4265
A word fitly spoken is like apples of gold in settings of silver Proverbs 25:11

George Kovac
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Re: Hoi Polloi

Postby George Kovac » Thu Feb 21, 2019 1:21 pm

Thanks for the recommendation of the Pinker books.

There is always the classic Elements of Style by Strunk & White, which has guided generations of students and writers. My son explains that Strunk & White's entire thesis can be reduced to "be concise," or, preferably, "concision."
"The messy layers of human experience get pulled together, and sometimes ordered, by words." Colum McCann, But Always Meeting Ourselves, NYT 6/15/09

gwray
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Re: Hoi Polloi

Postby gwray » Tue Feb 26, 2019 12:52 pm

Steven Pinker also has a book "Elements of Style", a guide in the vein of Strunk and White.
A word fitly spoken is like apples of gold in settings of silver Proverbs 25:11

George Kovac
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Re: Hoi Polloi

Postby George Kovac » Mon Mar 04, 2019 3:56 pm

Further observations on borrowed words and the lack of consistency about whether (or how much of) the source grammar is also borrowed…

Miami is a great laboratory to watch language evolve and see the miscible adaptations of Spanish and English.

The “proper” Spanish word for a “car” (as in “automobile” ) is “coche.” (“Automovil” is also acceptable but is a bit starchy.) But in Miami (as in other American cities with significant Spanish speaking populations) the invented word “carro,” is used most often. Carro is a word, a noun, borrowed from English largely intact. Nothing uncommon about that practice in the study of etymology, though carro reminds me of Brad Pitt’s clueless, monolingual character in the movie “The Mexican” when he attempts to rob a driver of his vehicle with the command “I needo your trucko.”

In English, nouns can be enlisted to work as adjectives without any change of form. It is one of the efficiencies of English grammar. We prefer to say “bus stop” and “school administrator” not “stop of buses” or “administrator of the school.” However, that grammatical structure is not how it works in Spanish where you need “de” to link your nouns—but, hey why not here in Miami where Spanglish evolves and thrives in real time?

Near my neighborhood is a billboard (board of bills?) for a personal injury law firm targeting a Spanish speaking audience. The billboard’s bullet points (points of bullets?) lists the kinds of cases that the law firm handles, including “accidentes carros.” Note that the noun which functions as an adjective (“carros”) is nevertheless placed postpositively—the traditional Spanish rule—rather than prepositively, as would be the expectation in English grammar.

So, how should that bullet point have been written? “coches accidentes”? “accidentes de coches”? “accidentes automovilisticos”? Nope, I find “accidentes carros” clear, efficient and pleasant to the Miami ear.
"The messy layers of human experience get pulled together, and sometimes ordered, by words." Colum McCann, But Always Meeting Ourselves, NYT 6/15/09


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