Definition 2022


hoi polloi



hoi polloi (uncountable) (collective noun)

  1. The common people; the masses. (Used with or without the definite article.)
    • 1936, George Ralph Doyle, Twenty-Five Years of Films: Reminiscences and Reflections of a Critic (The Mitre Press), page 52
      Actually, a large proportion of these ingénues have been merely good-looking working girls — hoi pretty polloi, if you like — who wished to become Hollywoodnymphs, and obtained their first chance through winning one of the countless varieties of that damnable institution, the beauty contest.
    • 1953 January, District of Columbia Library Association in Washington, D.C. Libraries, volume 24, number 1, page 1
      But what, pray tell, is a “librarian”? Consult the same infallible source and you will learn: “One who has the care or charge of a library.” And where does that leave the most of us, hoi great unwashed polloi who have neither the “care” nor the “charge” of a library?
    • 1975, Australasian Ornithologists’ Union, The Emu, volumes 75–76, page 91
      Being of hoi ornithological polloi and having been a stranger in some strange lands, I cheer the result because it seems to me that anyone visiting Britain for the first time can now find out quickly and accurately what birds he is likely to see where, when and how commonly.
    • 1978 September 28, British Broadcasting Corporation, The Listener, volumes 100–101, page 409
      Who’s the nurk at the Corporation, with O-levels in pondlife and master baking, who kept the four-quid handsome edition back to November, and put out a grotty little paperback for the nondescripts and hoi-bleeding-polloi in September?
    • 1985, David Batchelor, Why Tilbury? (J. Cape; ISBN 0224023209, 9780224023207), page 74
      Briar took Travers’ elbow and withdrew him, he hated hoi giggly polloi.
    • 2000 March 6, 9:00am, Arthur T. Murray, sci.econ (Usenet newsgroup), “Proletarians of the World Wide Web, unite against ICANN!”, Message ID: <>#1/1
      Holding the meeting in Egypt is a Machiavellian way to look international but in reality to prevent hoi Interent polloi from attending the meeting.
    • 2004 March 21, 2:00pm, Sheila Miguez Herndon, chi.eats (Usenet newsgroup), “Re: Chocolate souffle needed in Chicago limits”, Message ID: <>
      Post a summary here for hoi unwashed polloi.
    • 2010, Guy Deutscher, Through the Language Glass, Arrow 2011, page 59:
      Naturally, the anthropological society did not wish to share its business with hoi polloi, so Herr Hagenbeck kindly offered them a private viewing.
    • 2011, John Naughton, The Guardian, 8 May 2011:
      John Carey argued that most of our culture's esteemed thinkers over several centuries despised the masses and devoted much of their efforts to excluding the hoi-polloi from cultural life.
  2. (proscribed) The elite.
    • 1934, Noël Coward, Play Parade, page 334:
      Our moral standards sway Like Mrs. Tanqueray, And we are theoretically Most aesthetically Eager to display The fact that we're aggressively And excessively Anxious to destroy All the snobbery And hob-nobbery Of the hoi-polloi.
    • 1985, Herbert Gold, Stories of Misbegotten Love: Stories, page 135:
      "Maybe eating lunch on Nob Hill with your friends the hoi polloi." She didn't mean hoi polloi; but if you roll that phrase around your tongue long enough it can acquire a deceptive taste of affluence. "I don't have any hoi polloi friends"[.]
    • 1992, Charles Mathes, The Girl with the Phony Name:
      "You gotta have references from the hoi polloi or else the MacDonalds won't give you the time of day. You don't happen to know the Queen, do you?"
    • 1993, W.E.B. Griffin, The Assassin:
      "Always the fashion plate, aren't you, Peter", the mayor said as he shook Wohl's hand. “Even when you were a little boy.”  “I've been out hobnobbing with the hoi polloi, Mr. Mayor.” / “Which hoi polloi would that be?” the mayor asked, chuckling. / “Captain Pekach's fiancée.
    • 1998, Jackie Collins, Lucky, page 352:
      "I'm very insulted," she stated, picking at her nail polish. / "Why?" / "Am I, Alice Golden, former star of Las Vegas — Lennie inherited everything he knows from me — not good enough to sit at the dinner table with the likes of the hoi polloi?"
    • 2010, Adam Dunn, Rivers of Gold: A Novel, page 15:
      He sees me as some shiny piece of rough trade in from the boroughs to hobnob with Manhattan's hoi polloi, a chance find that adds a dash of edgy color to his safe, easy life[.]
    • 2011, Jerome Charyn, The Secret Life of Emily Dickinson: A Novel, page 216:
      It had chandeliers and potted plants, elephantine tables and plush velvet chairs, and it was filled with the hoi polloi I had met on Magazine Street—men in high hats and women in the finest bonnets and bustles.

Usage notes

  • 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.[1]







Learned borrowing from Ancient Greek οἱ πολλοί (hoi polloí, the many)


hoi polloi m (uncountable)

  1. hoi polloi (the common people)