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Posted: 11 September 2007 09:45 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 31 ]
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I say “the”, but I acknowledge the possibility that people who don’t are just more aware of the redundancy, possibly being more familiar with Greek so it strikes them the way “the les misérables” would strike someone who knew at least some French.  I don’t assume that they’re being pretentious and showing off.

Fine, but do you consider it “wrongheaded” to say that those who avoid it because they know Greek should not characterize those who use it as illiterate, ungrammatical, etc., which is the usual take from the purist side?  I’m not attacking those who avoid it for their own personal reasons—we all have our quirks—but those who think they’re superior for doing so.

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Posted: 11 September 2007 09:46 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 32 ]
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Dr. Techie - 11 September 2007 08:17 AM

I think people who make a fetish of the issue are wrongheaded, regardless of which side they’re on.  There are good arguments to be made in favor in dropping it like the comparison of Alhambra or algebra, but on the other hand few people would dispute that “These are the poor people Victor Hugo called the les misérables” is laughable, as is “The German submariners are trapped in the Das Boot.” IMO “hoi polloi” in somewhere in between.  I say “the”, but I acknowledge the possibility that people who don’t are just more aware of the redundancy, possibly being more familiar with Greek so it strikes them the way “the les misérables” would strike someone who knew at least some French.  I don’t assume that they’re being pretentious and showing off.

The difference is that German and French are familiar languages.  Educated people, even if not fluent in these languages, recognize the definite articles.  Arabic, on the other hand, is not a familiar language.  Few people have status anxiety over seeming uneducated in Arabic.

So in the case of hoi polloi we have the interesting factoid that early on, when Greek was a common part of the curriculum for educated English speakers, the Greek definite article was not interpreted as filling that slot in English.  I don’t know why this was.  What changed later on?  Why was hoi polloi reinterpreted, with the definite article now taken as filling that slot?  I think the relevant observation is that actual teaching of Greek was diminishing, giving rise the the anxiety that “the hoi polloi” might be taken as a sign that the user doesn’t know what hoi means, so the user affirms this status by omitting “the”, making it clear that he knows the Greek.  This is well worth sounding stilted and artificial.  Indeed, sounding stilted and artificial is the point.

Something of the same thing goes on with Latin plurals such as stadii but with the added hazard of looking foolish with false Latin plurals such as viri.

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Posted: 11 September 2007 10:18 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 33 ]
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To attempt to clarify what I thought I had already been pretty clear about: I think that criticizing anyone for using “the”, or for not using it, with hoi polloi falls under the heading of making a fetish of it, and is wrongheaded.

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Posted: 11 September 2007 11:07 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 34 ]
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Higgledy-piggledy,
King Agamemnon,
Trying to get up
An invasion of Troy,

Said to the other kings,
Incontrovertibly:
“Greek? they don’t know it ---
They’re hoi polloi”.

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Posted: 11 September 2007 11:49 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 35 ]
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Has anybody else come across the bizarre usage of hoi polloi to mean almost the polar opposite, ie high-falutin’, posh? OED doesn’t mention it but I’m sure it was not uncommon at one time, at least in the UK.

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Posted: 11 September 2007 12:16 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 36 ]
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Yes, that sense is common enough in the US that, as D Wilson pointed out on the previous page, Merriam-Webster’s 3rd listed it (apparently without any disclaimer) as the second definition of the term.

aldi³!

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Posted: 11 September 2007 12:19 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 37 ]
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Heh.  Doc T beat me to it, but here‘s an actual link to the comment.

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Posted: 11 September 2007 12:19 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 38 ]
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(I note also that the Good Doctor has eight more comments than I do.  Must… comment… faster...)

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Posted: 11 September 2007 02:45 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 39 ]
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And I’d been so careful of late!

It seems a safe bet that the phrase hoity-toity has had some influence on the mistaken sense of hoi polloi. The former, says OED, is ‘apparently a derivation of hoit , v. with reduplication, the latter being an obsolete verb of obscure origin meaning ‘to indulge in riotous and noisy mirth’.

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Posted: 11 September 2007 02:48 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 40 ]
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on the other hand few people would dispute that “These are the poor people Victor Hugo called the les misérables” is laughable, as is “The German submariners are trapped in the Das Boot.”

These are not really analogous. Unlike hoi polloi, neither of these phrases have been assimilated into English beyond use in the literary/cinematic titles. One wouldn’t say “these are les misérables of south central Los Angeles” or “the crew of the USS Thresher lost along with das boot.” One might say “these are les misérables of early 19th century France”, evoking Hugo’s novel, but that’s as far as you might go in using these phrases in a general sense in English. The fact that these haven’t been assimilated, means that they generally take the original grammar when used in English.

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Posted: 11 September 2007 04:34 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 41 ]
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All right, what about “with au jus”?  Is somebody who prefers to omit the “with” just pretentiously showing off his knowledge of French?

N.B. I’m not talking about criticizing others for using it, I’m just talking about avoiding it in one’s own speech.

[ Edited: 11 September 2007 05:44 PM by Dr. Techie ]
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Posted: 11 September 2007 10:55 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 42 ]
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No more than someone who uses “al dente”, “au gratin”, etc etc.  Many foreign food terms are now accepted and used as in the original. “Hoi polloi” isn’t one such.  We (the hoi polloi) have always decided how foreign words are used in English.  It doesn’t matter how many people say something is wrong or ungrammatical - usage dictates.

I still think that someone who insists on omitting “the” before “hoi polloi” is being either misguided, finickity or supercilious, and I am unanimous in that.  Or maybe the fact that I naturally say “the hoi polloi” is why I will forever be one of them.

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Posted: 12 September 2007 04:14 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 43 ]
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Certe, I’ve always felt that if one wished to use hoi polloi fully grammatically, one ought to decline it fully: e.g., “I would ignore tous pollous if I were you, dear” or “The attitude ton pollon is beginning to grate, don’t you think?”. Although in truth if we do that, I suppose we should get polytonic on its vowels and fanatic about its letters.

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Posted: 12 September 2007 06:07 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 44 ]
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What Eliza said, except I would restrict the “misguided, finicky, or supercilious” to those who would correct others for adding the “the.” Simply omitting the article in one’s own speech and writing isn’t pretentious.

There is a continuum of assimilation. On one end we have 1) the use of the term with explanation. Then it moves to 2) italicizing the term, but omitting the explanation. Then we have 3) a period where the word is simply dropped into English sentences, but it still takes foreign grammar and inflections. And finally 4) the term becomes fully assimilated and uses standard English inflections, articles, etc. At any given time, there is rarely a neat division between any two (or more) of these categories. Usage will slop over into the adjacent categories.

Hoi polloi is between 3 & 4, leaning heavily toward 4.

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Posted: 12 September 2007 07:57 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 45 ]
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I generally agree with Dave’s taxonomy of assimilation, but hoi polloi is an unusual case.  It was routinely used with the English definite article for centuries, as is characteristic of Dave’s stage 4 (though initially using the Greek alphabet, which is more like stage 2).  The movement backwards to stage 3, requiring that the English definite article be omitted, was the artificial product of usage manuals.  In essence, Fowler retroactively declared hoi polloi unassimilated. 

Is omitting the English article in one’s own speech and writing pretentious?  That’s not the word I would choose.  I would go with “affected”.  To my ear it is so jarring that it seems like it must be a self-conscious affectation.  (Didn’t Wilson Follet declare it skunked, because with the “the” it is wrong, and without the “the” it sounds wrong?) It reminds me of Dryden deciding that terminal prepositions are bad grammar, and going back and editing his earlier work to remove them.

But it’s been eighty years that Fowler’s injunction has been out there, so I suppose that there may be people who grew up hearing it without the English article, and for whom this sounds natural.

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