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Why not the hoi polloi?

Posted by Henry on December 07, 2004

In Reply to: Not the hoi polloi posted by Stickler on December 05, 2004

: : : : : : : : Words of 2004 at info/04words.htm

: : : : : : :
: : : : : : : DEFENESTRATION?!? Wazzupwiddat?

: : : : : : That one's been around a long time. It means throwing someone out a window.

: : : : : These were the words most frequently looked up on M-W this year.

: : : : What I mean is, I can understand why words like blog, incumbent, insurgent, hurricane, partisan, etc. are on the list. These words all figure prominantly in trends or events of 2004. But I can't think of a reason why "defenestration" is such a topic of interest. It seems totally out of left-field! Any suggestions?

: : : Perhaps because the hoi polloi discovered it and found it to be funny. I did, as I'm one of them--DH

: : I think my favourite incident in history has to be the Defenestration of Prague. Not only is that a beautiful phrase, the incident was ripely comic as well.

: : For those not familiar with it, look it up and enjoy.

: : DFG

: 1. "Fenestra," meaning window, is one of the prettiest words in Italian.
: 2. One should not say "the hoi polloi," since "hoi" means "the." What you are saying is "the the common people." Better to say "because hoi polloi discovered it..."

There is always a danger of repetition when you adopt foreign vocabulary. River Avon means River River. Pendle Hill means Hill Hill Hill. It isn't necessarily wrong to use these names. Not every English speaker is aware of the structure of his own language, let alone a foreigh one.

It is common to hear people use the phrase 'the hoi polloi'. It is now equally common to hear others demonstrate their superior knowledge of Greek. I've never yet heard anyone use 'hoi polloi' alone; in my view it certainly isn't idiomatic English. In that case why should it be regarded as better than the common usage? It's just another example of the way in which the language evolves, to the regret of less liberal minds. The third choice is to avoid use of the phrase altogether.

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