Origin of hoi polloiGr, literally , the many
hoi polloihoi pol·loi
Origin of hoi polloiGreek 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: The phrase hoi polloi comes from Greek, where it means “the masses,” and properly used, the English word means the same thing. In our 2002 survey, 95 percent of the Usage Panel approved of the example Stars who had arrived in stretch limos were elbow-to-elbow with the hoi polloi who had come on the subway. But many people use the word to refer to the upper crust of society—the exact opposite of its etymological meaning. The confusion may have arisen because of the similarity in sound of hoity toity, which means “pretentiously self-important, haughty.” A small but significant portion of the Panel (28 percent) accepted this usage in the example The luxurious sets in the movie evoke the lifestyle of the hoi polloi in the early 20th century. This suggests that some people will allow either meaning of the word, perhaps out of sympathy for fellow speakers of English who did not study Greek. A second problem is related to the word hoi, which is the Greek definite article. Thus, for those who know their Greek, the expression the hoi polloi is a redundancy meaning “the the masses.” Nonetheless, 78 percent of the Panel said that they used the with hoi polloi. The expression is an English one, after all.
(uncountable) (collective noun)
- As hoi represents a definite article in Ancient Greek, some authorities consider that the construction the hoi polloi is redundant and should not be used in English. The OED says "In English use normally preceded by the def. article even though hoi means ‘the’".
- The second definition is opposed to the first; it arose from a misunderstanding of the term, probably under influence of such terms as hoity-toity, and is often considered incorrect.
From Ancient Greek οἱ πολλοί (hoi polloi, “the many”).