Greek that means the many or, in the strictest sense, the people. The phrase probably became known to English the Last of the Mohicans (Webster’s French Thesaurus Edition) PDF through Pericles’ Funeral Oration, as mentioned in Thucydides’ History of the Peloponnesian War.
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Its current English usage originated in the early 19th century, a time when it was generally accepted that one must be familiar with Greek and Latin in order to be considered well educated. Some linguistic prescriptivists argue that, given that hoi is a definite article, the phrase « the hoi polloi » is redundant, akin to saying « the the masses ». Others argue that this is inconsistent with other English loanwords. There have been numerous uses of the term in English literature. James Fenimore Cooper, author of The Last of the Mohicans, is often credited with making the first recorded usage of the term in English. Lord Byron had, in fact, previously used the term in his letters and journal. In one journal entry, dated 24 November 1813, Byron writes « I have not answered W.
I regret to hear from others, that he has lately been unfortunate in pecuniary involvements. Byron also wrote an 1821 entry in his journal » one or two others, with myself, put on masks, and went on the stage with the ‘oi polloi. While Charles Darwin was at the University of Cambridge from 1828 to 1831, undergraduates used the term « hoi polloi » or « Poll » for those reading for an ordinary degree, the « pass degree ». Gilbert used the term in 1882 when he wrote the libretto of the comic opera Iolanthe. John Dryden used the phrase in his Essay of Dramatick Poesie, published in 1668.