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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.
But most writers use the, which is normal English grammar.
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.
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.
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.