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

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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 Only a person who had gone to Harvard could possibly have a problem with this – Harvard-grads being notoriously sensitive about the dilution of their brand by the hoi polloi. Amy Dickinson, Detroit Free Press, "Family contacts with abusive ex continue to hurt," 18 Jan. 2021 Trump has a unique approach to improving the sport: Get rid of the hoi polloi. Scott Ostler, SFChronicle.com, "Would Donald Trump or Joe Biden be the better Sports Commander in Chief?," 30 Oct. 2020 So rather than preferring the hoi polloi, Facebook gives preference to the people who already have power and are catering and toadying to them. Brian Dumaine, Fortune, "Ahead of big tech’s antitrust hearing, tech experts predict Facebook’s and Amazon’s fates," 29 July 2020 Until the massive mess-up by the Democrats on Caucus Night, the caucuses had performed as advertised: The highfalutin forced to meet and greet the hoi polloi. Charlie Szold, National Review, "Keep Politics Fun; Save the Iowa Caucuses," 11 Feb. 2020 The Raiders will move into a sparkling palace in Vegas next year, replete with luxury suites and plenty of modern amenities for the tourists and hoi polloi. BostonGlobe.com, "Few people would disagree that the Oakland Coliseum is not up to today’s standards for an NFL stadium.," 15 Dec. 2019 That’s for the pro football hoi polloi, lesser franchises. BostonGlobe.com, "Patriots face a tough road ahead to keep the dynasty rolling - The Boston Globe," 31 Dec. 2019 While open to the general public, the $425 ticket price successfully excludes the hoi polloi from the gates of the famed golf resort. Fortune, "Letter From Pebble Beach: What a Disappointing Classic Car Auction Tells us About the 1%—and the Economy," 24 Aug. 2019 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

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.

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First Known Use of hoi polloi

1837, in the meaning defined at sense 1

History and Etymology for hoi polloi

Greek, the many

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Time Traveler for hoi polloi

Time Traveler

The first known use of hoi polloi was in 1837

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Statistics for hoi polloi

Last Updated

27 Jan 2021

Cite this Entry

“Hoi polloi.” Merriam-Webster.com Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/hoi%20polloi. Accessed 3 Mar. 2021.

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More Definitions for hoi polloi

hoi polloi


English Language Learners Definition of hoi polloi

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

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