or, stuff that I dragged out of my head

Location: Moncton, New Brunswick, Canada

Sunday, April 17, 2005

Just Folks

So: is it "hoi polloi" or "the hoi polloi"?

Extremely precise types (such as I) are wont to say that "the hoi polloi" is redundant, because "hoi" means "the" in Greek. On the other hand, more forgiving types (also such as I: Do I contradict myself? Very well, then, I contradict myself. I am large, I contain multitudes) allow that English absorbs words and phrases wholesale and changes their sense, which is as it should be, and therefore "the hoi polloi" is entirely acceptable, because the phrase as a whole, not just the word "polloi" itself, has taken root in the language. (It has been used in this manner, in fact, almost since the day it was first used in English, and that's a while ago by any calendar.)

Then the more precise types say, "Yeah, but we don't say 'The Le Cirque', because 'Le' means 'The' in French," and the the more relaxed sorts say, "So? English isn't a set of mathematical algorithms. We can have different rules in different situations." And nobody is quite satisfied. But "the hoi polloi" is still acceptable to all but the most precise and/or pedantic.

"Hoi polloi" does not, though, mean "the elite" or anything like it; fortunately, this error seems to be rare. It means "the masses" or "the common people". But you knew that.


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