• plebeian •
plê-bee-ên • Hear it!
Part of Speech: Adjective
Meaning: 1. Of or related to the commoners of ancient Rome. 2. Of or related to the lower social class. 3. Common, ordinary, plain, lacking refinement.
Notes: Today's adjective may be used as a noun referring to a member of the plebeian class. You might want to use the root of this word, pleb, in the same service. A plebe, back-formed from plebeian, is a freshman at a military academy. Look out for all the vowels in this word, especially the E between the root and the suffix -ian.
In Play: There is a lovely however improbable rhyme in the 1953 Arthur Hamilton song "Cry me a River" that goes like this:
You told me love was too plebeian
Told me you were through with me an'
Now you say you love me . . .
The song was offered to Peggy King, but Columbia Records objected to the word plebeian in the lyric. American plebeians now can climb to dizzying social heights: "These days politicians brag about their plebeian origins."
Word History: Today's Good Word was taken from Latin plebeius "belonging to the plebs, originally plebes "the populace, the masses", as opposed to the fewer patricians. Latin inherited this word from PIE ple-, the metathesized and suffixed form of PIE pelê-/polê- "to fill", source also of Russian polnyi and English fill. Yiddish gefilte, as in 'gefilte fish', was borrowed from German gefüllte "filled", past participle of füllen "to fill, stuff", from the same source. In Latin it also emerged as plenus "full, abundant, crowded", the ultimate source of English plenty. English folk and German Folk "common people" descended from the same PIE word via the Germanic ancestors of these two languages.
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