Sunday, September 5, 2010

Word Nerd: Hoi Polloi


Standard definition: the masses; common folk (see Merriam-Webster)

Incorrect usage: the elite; members of high society

Hoi polloi is often misused to mean "rich and famous," which is the exact opposite of what it really means. The expression originates from the Greek for "the many,"  and in English it usually carries a derogatory connotation.  The Websters loved having box seats so they didn't have to mix with hoi polloi.

Note: Many people make the mistake of using the article "the" before hoi polloi. This is redundant since the article is already embedded in the expression. In a scene from the film "Dead Poet's Society," Robin Williams's character tells his class:
However, be warned that, when you say "the hoi polloi" you are actually saying "the the herd." Indicating that you, too, are "hoi polloi."


From Variety:
Hoi polloi enjoy 'Toy Story'
The headline incorrectly uses "hoi polloi" in reference to star-studded parties surrounding the premier of Toy Story 3.

From WalletPop: 
Recession watch: Suddenly, thrifting is OK for the hoi-polloi
Egads! This headline makes three errors when using "hoi polloi": (1) uses the term to refer to rich people who shop at thrift stores; (2) includes the article "the"; (3) includes an unnecessary hyphen.

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