hoi polloi[ho̵i′pə lo̵i′]
Origin: Gr, literally , the many
Used by arrangement with John Wiley & Sons, Inc.
Origin: Greek, the many : hoi, nominative pl. of ho, the; see so- in Indo-European roots + polloi, nominative pl. of polus, many; see pelə-1 in Indo-European roots.Usage Note: Hoi polloi is a borrowing of the Greek phrase hoi polloi, consisting of hoi, meaning “the” and used before a plural, and polloi, the plural of polus, “many.” In Greek hoi polloi had a special sense, “the greater number, the people, the commonalty, the masses.” This phrase has generally expressed this meaning in English since its first recorded instance, in an 1837 work by James Fenimore Cooper. Hoi polloi is sometimes incorrectly used to mean “the elite,” possibly because it is reminiscent of high and mighty or because it sounds like hoity-toity. • Since the Greek phrase includes an article, some critics have argued that the phrase the hoi polloi is redundant. But phrases borrowed from other languages are often reanalyzed in English as single words. For example, a number of Arabic noun phrases were borrowed into English as simple nouns. The Arabic element al- means “the,” and appears in English nouns such as alcohol and alchemy. Thus, since no one would consider a phrase such as “the alcohol” to be redundant, criticizing the hoi polloi on similar grounds seems pedantic.
hoi polloi - Cultural Definition
The masses, the ordinary folk; the phrase is often used in a derogatory way to refer to a popular preference or incorrect opinion: “The hoi polloi may think that Fitzgerald is a great director, but those who know about film realize that his work is commercial and derivative.” From Greek, meaning “the many.”