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The vast unwashed

Posted by Smokey Stover on June 24, 2006

In Reply to: The vast unwashed posted by Bob on June 24, 2006

: : I'm wondering about the oft used phrase "the vast unwashed". Where did it originate and where was it first used?

: It is much more commonly (so to speak) rendered as "the great unwashed." Google hits 435 vs. 331,000. Don't know an origin.

I don't know either, but I tend to like the phrase better with an actual noun, as in "the great unwashed multitude," or perhaps "the unwashed masses." Perhaps I'm asking too much. From E. Cobham Brewer (1810-1897), Brewer's Dictionary of Phrase and Fable, 1898, we have:
"Great Unwashed (The).
The artisan class. Burke first used the compound, but Sir Walter Scott popularised it."

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