Garner’s Usage Tip of the Day: hoi polloi.

hoi polloi. “Hoi polloi” = the common people, the masses. Because “hoi” in Greek means “the” (plural), “the hoi polloi” is technically redundant. But the three-word phrase predominates and ought to be accepted. What shouldn’t be accepted, though, is the growing misuse of “hoi polloi” to refer to the elite. This might occur through a false association with “hoity-toity” (= arrogant, haughty) or “high and mighty” — e.g.: “You may shell out $75 or $80 per person, sans tax and tip, for the Tribute experience, but, trust me: This is money very well spent. Which is why Tribute has been drawing Detroit power brokers and the upper-end hoi polloi [read, perhaps, ‘upper crust’] since it opened in April.” Jane Rayburn, “Restaurant Reviews,” Detroit News, 3 July 1997, at F5. For more information about the Language-Change Index click here. Quotation of the Day: “My students understand very well what social status means, so I simply tell them, ‘If you speak this way, you go in the back door; if you speak this way, you go in the front door.’ I make it very clear that I neither built the house nor did I designate the doors. In this case, I am merely an agent showing off the real estate. I have the key to the front door, and once the student has the concept of usage levels I have given him the key. The back door is always ajar.” V. Louise Higgins, “Approaching Usage in the Classroom” (1960), in Readings in Applied English Linguistics 330, 335 (Harold Byron Allen ed., 2d ed. 1964).
Scroll to Top