Saturday, 26 November 2011

Hoi polloi

"I was having high tea at the Empress recently," said an acquaintance recently. "Keeping company with the hoi polloi."

On the contrary! The hoi polloi, the masses, were outside. Perhaps she was keeping company with the hoighty-toighty.

Nor does Gary Mason get it right when he writes in the Globe (November 9, 2011) of the occupiers in Vancouver as follows:

A leaderless movement that initially attracted a disparate collection of well-meaning activists along with just plain folk was ultimately hijacked by a hoi polloi with questionable ambitions. 

The hoi polloi are the common people in general, not a faction. In fact, some purists would argue that the indefinite article is redundant, since it is already there in Greek -- "hoi" means "the" and "polloi" means "many"-- and so we should speak of hoi polloi and not the hoi polloi. Redundant or not, it is illogical to write of a hoi-polloi, since that would be to say, literally, "a the many".

As the word "hijacked' implies, the occupier movement was taken over by a minority group with its "questionable ambitions", certainly not by the masses, or hoi polloi.


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