hoi polloi

plural noun
hoi pol·​loi | \ ˌhȯi-pə-ˈlȯi How to pronounce hoi polloi (audio) \

Definition of hoi polloi

1 : the general populace : masses
2 : people of distinction or wealth or elevated social status : elite

Keep scrolling for more

Usage and Meanings of Hoi Polloi

Since hoi polloi is a transliteration of the Greek for "the many," some critics have asserted that the phrase should not be preceded by the. They find "the hoi polloi" to be redundant, equivalent to "the the many"—an opinion that fails to recognize that hoi means nothing at all in English. Nonetheless, the opinion has influenced the omission of the in the usage of some writers. Family-owned businesses that select their CEOs from all family members fare no worse than companies that select talent from hoi polloi. The Wilson Quarterly But most writers use the, which is normal English grammar. A third, more readily acceptable innovation, was the new taste for whiskey as a drink, first for the hoi polloi and ultimately for the gentry. — Jacques Barzun … rented mainly to corporations to allow their VIPs air-conditioned splendor high above the hoi polloi. — James B. Twitchell . A number of critics also warn against the use of hoi polloi in sense 2, a sense that directly contradicts its original meaning. The sense is not commonly covered in dictionaries, but it does appear—albeit rarely—in published, edited text, as it has since the mid-20th century. … I could fly over to Europe and join the rich hoi polloi, at Monte Carlo. — Westwood Pegler Most of the hoi polloi and VIPs who move and shake New York went first to a book party for Time's former headman, Henry Grunwald, in the New York Public Library. — Liz Smith . We first heard of this sense in the early 1950s, when it was reported to be well established in spoken use in such diverse locales as central New Jersey, southern California, Cleveland, Ohio, and Las Vegas, Nevada. Several members of our editorial staff at that time also testified to its common occurrence, and evidence in the years since strongly suggests that this sense of hoi polloi continues to be frequently used in speech. We do not know for certain how this new sense originated, but one possibility is that it developed out of the inherent snobbery of hoi polloi. In its original and primary 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 associations with snobbery, misunderstood it as an arrogant term for the haves rather than a contemptuous term for the have-nots, thus giving rise to its newer, contradictory sense.

Did You Know?

In Greek, hoi polloi means simply "the many". (Even though hoi itself means "the", in English we almost always say "the hoi polloi".) It comes originally from the famous Funeral Oration by Pericles, where it was actually used in a positive way. Today it's generally used by people who think of themselves as superior—though it's also sometimes used in Pericles' democratic spirit. By the way, it has no relation to hoity-toity, meaning "stuck-up", which starts with the same sound but has nothing to do with Greek.

Examples of hoi polloi in a Sentence

Recent Examples on the Web

The answer lies in a special entrance for common tourists followed by a maze of long hallways seemingly designed to segregate the hoi polloi from esteemed guests of the hotel. Washington Post, "The 7 most spectacular views in D.C., ranked," 13 June 2019 In addition to the underground passageway, two covert green rooms are available off the lobby for stars who don’t want to mingle with hoi polloi. Brooks Barnes, New York Times, "‘The Town Hall of Hollywood.’ Welcome to the Netflix Lobby.," 14 July 2019 Wouldn’t that create an unholy alliance for the easily bored hoi polloi? Tom Hoffarth, latimes.com, "Darrell Waltrip provided plenty of lasting memories during Fox’s NASCAR coverage," 23 June 2019 But proposed green belt-tightening among hoi polloi was not matched by a cutback in their second and third homes, overseas vacations, luxury cars, private jets, and high-tech appurtenances. Victor Davis Hanson, National Review, "Why Are the Western Middle Classes So Angry?," 13 June 2019 Here and there across the Arab world, private VIP services, often in cahoots with official security chiefs, sell fast-track passage to bypass the rigmarole faced by hoi polloi. The Economist, "How airports explain the Arab world," 29 June 2019 But proposed green belt-tightening among hoi polloi was not matched by a cutback in second and third homes, overseas vacations, luxury cars, private jets and high-tech appurtenances. Victor Davis Hanson, The Mercury News, "Hanson: Why are Western middle classes revolting against the elites?," 13 June 2019 Now, the hoi polloi can shop Voyage in the comfort of their own homes (or, erm, beds). Zoe Ruffner, Vogue, "Why I Fell in Love With Kate Moss’s Favorite ’90s London Label," 16 May 2019 Terror and pity abound, but now the titanic protagonists are Jews, blacks, women and others once cast hopelessly among the hoi polloi. Daniel Akst, WSJ, "‘The Hazards of Good Fortune’ Review: An Unforgiven Overreacher," 5 Oct. 2018

These example sentences are selected automatically from various online news sources to reflect current usage of the word 'hoi polloi.' Views expressed in the examples do not represent the opinion of Merriam-Webster or its editors. Send us feedback.

See More

First Known Use of hoi polloi

1837, in the meaning defined above

History and Etymology for hoi polloi

Greek, the many

Keep scrolling for more

Learn More about hoi polloi

Dictionary Entries near hoi polloi




hoi polloi


hoisin sauce


Statistics for hoi polloi

Last Updated

5 Aug 2019

Look-up Popularity

Time Traveler for hoi polloi

The first known use of hoi polloi was in 1837

See more words from the same year

Keep scrolling for more

More Definitions for hoi polloi

hoi polloi


English Language Learners Definition of hoi polloi

: ordinary people : people who are not rich, famous, etc.

More from Merriam-Webster on hoi polloi

Rhyming Dictionary: Words that rhyme with hoi polloi

Thesaurus: All synonyms and antonyms for hoi polloi

Comments on hoi polloi

What made you want to look up hoi polloi? Please tell us where you read or heard it (including the quote, if possible).


not constant or steady

Get Word of the Day daily email!

Test Your Vocabulary

Summer 2019 Words of the Day Quiz

  • a-bowl-of-peach-sorbet-with-cut-peaches-next-to-it
  • Which is a synonym of desideratum?
Spell It

Can you spell these 10 commonly misspelled words?

Word Winder's CrossWinder

Test Your Knowledge - and learn some interesting things along the way.

Love words? Need even more definitions?

Subscribe to America's largest dictionary and get thousands more definitions and advanced search—ad free!