Hoi Polloi

28 Jan

December 17, 2008                       HOI POLLOI                                         Waldo Tomosky

(An Essay)

Hoi Polloi has its origins in the Greek Language. It is not often used in common everyday language or in the popular printed word     .  .  .  .  except by columnists who wish to impart their high opinions of themselves to the reader. Most of the time it is used in the university classroom or can be found in college level textbooks. Both of these sources (in addition to columnists) place themselves in the ranks of the elite.

How can it be that such a nice rhyming phrase as “hoi polloi” would not be used in popular venues?  Don’t the elite wish for the populace to encounter it? There is a simple answer to this. It is considered derogatory by the user. These elitists know this dirty little secret but wish to keep it from the “hoi polloi” through an act of omission.

Of course if you are in the classroom or reading a textbook (or if by chance you wander across the phrase by chance in newspaper or magazine column), then; you (through your efforts to better yourself) become part of the group that knows the dirty little secret. At this point you feel dirty but do not know why. It is because you wish to use this neat rhyming phrase sometime in the future (probably on that next sociology term paper or in your next letter to the editor). On the other hand you know the pejorative meaning of the phrase.

On the surface (and in the original use) it means “the general populace.” However slowly (but surely) the street meaning was changed to “the many.” Then the next slight hue of color was imparted; “the masses.”

What do the textbooks use to add a pejorative sense to the phrase? Why the word “proletariat” seems to fit just fine. That raises the author or speaker to higher level while moving the general populace into the lowest social class. Yet (when used by the elite) how erudite it rings. But now we are getting even closer to the answer. Proletariat also indicates the “working class” or in the code of the socialists “the industrial workers”, some even say “the dupes of capitalism.” Well now, we can not have the workers who build the products that the elite purchase, know that we are referring to them as dupes, can we?

If the elite (subconsciously) realize that the meaning of “hoi polloi”, “the masses”, “the proletariat” can all be connected together by the laboring class who read, then shame on them for a double act of omission. Not only are they afraid of using “hoi polloi” (in articles that the masses read) but they also wish the world to think of them as men who would not place the producers in a sub-class. But that is exactly what these elites are doing; setting up a class structure.

Hollywood would not be afraid to use the phrase; if only they knew it existed. In the absence of such knowledge they use the term “the great unwashed”; those who are not cleansed with soap and water, the ignorant. See how easy it is to raise oneself to great heights?

A great politician once said, and I paraphrase, “the common people, the throngs, cling to their guns and religion in the face of change.” What an all-encompassing thought, especially if you are running on the platform for change. Who wants to be associated with the rabble, the plebian? He may have forgotten that the plebian are the plebiscite; those who vote. On the other hand he probably knew that the weak (or the fence-sitters) would accept his argument; and they did.

Is there any compassion for those who are not well educated, either at home or at school? No, these people are the social “Philistines”, those crass materialists who are supposedly opposed to things of artistic or intellectual values, those who are “fools of consumerism.”  They may lack knowledge of a special area, a parochial field of study by the elitist who is calling them “Philistines.” Is the speaker not a philistine himself? He seems to lack the special knowledge of social intercourse; which, by the way, is not such a difficult area of knowledge.

The established elite wish to also place themselves higher than the neo-elite; the “parvenu.” These almost established have recently, or suddenly, attained the wealth or power. Because the parvenu were not born with a silver spoon in their mouths (or raised in the aristocracy of politics) they are played down by their brethren elite. We can not have these new-comers competing; can we? And so because of their unsecured social position let us make appropriate use of intimidation.

So here we are, the laborers, the teachers, the professors and the capitalists; all working together to make a better place for our children; or are we? No, we are not. We are working to divide this nation (just a little over two-hundred years old  .  .  . a baby by most comparisons), for the sake of individual power, into classes and subclasses.

At the top are the intelligentsia; the liberal socialist, the Marxist, the capitalist, the conservative, the organic intellectual. This is followed by the conventional middle class, the materialistic, the rigid, the correct, the traditional, the Bourgeois. Then on we move to the populace, the rank and file, the rabble, the riff-raff, the crowd, the hoi-polloi. After that comes the peasant, the yahoo, the barbarian, the philistine, the vulgarian.

We could have used different terms of class and avoided the pejorative. This would include the elite, the solid citizens, Middle America, the hourly worker, the underprivileged, the silent majority. But that would yield déclassé, pro bono publico. To the working class; moritus te salutamus (we who are about to die, salute thee), finis coronat opus (our end crowns our work).

    • © Copyright – Waldo Tomosky

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