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hoi pol·loi (hoi pə-loi)
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n.
The common people; the masses.

[Greek, the many : hoi, nominative pl. of ho, the; see so- in the Appendix of Indo-European roots + polloi, nominative pl. of polus, many; see pelə-1 in the Appendix of Indo-European roots.]

Usage Note: The hoi in the Greek phrase hoi polloi (“the many” or “the masses”) means “the,” so when the phrase was adopted into English by classically educated speakers, it was naturally used without an additional definite article. But nowadays few English speakers, even at the highest levels of educational attainment, have studied Greek, so the phrase is now commonly used with an extra “the”: the hoi polloi. This expanded version of the expression is now fully standard; in our 2017 ballot, a sentence employing it was accepted by 86 percent of the Usage Panel, though the corresponding sentence without the the was still accepted by 67 percent of the Panel. · Some people, possibly confused by the similarity in sound between hoi polloi and hoity toity (“pretentiously self-important, haughty”), use hoi polloi to refer to the upper crust of societythe exact opposite of its etymological meaning. In 2017, a small portion of the Panel (35 percent) accepted this usage in the sentence The luxurious sets in the movie evoke the lifestyle of the hoi polloi in the early 20th century.

The American Heritage® Dictionary of the English Language, Fifth Edition copyright ©2018 by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company. All rights reserved.
 

Indo-European & Semitic Roots Appendices

    Thousands of entries in the dictionary include etymologies that trace their origins back to reconstructed proto-languages. You can obtain more information about these forms in our online appendices:

    Indo-European Roots

    Semitic Roots

    The Indo-European appendix covers nearly half of the Indo-European roots that have left their mark on English words. A more complete treatment of Indo-European roots and the English words derived from them is available in our Dictionary of Indo-European Roots.

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