“Sometimes, we think we know a word’s meaning but really don’t. Until a few years ago, for instance, I thought “hoi polloi” meant “the elite, the upper crust.”
This probably stemmed from my mother’s frequent references to the rich folks in our town as “the hoi polloi,” and, believe me, my family wasn’t among them.
In fact, “hoi polloi,” a Greek phrase for “the many,” means the exact opposite: “the masses, the common people.” Some say this confusion arises because “hoi polloi” sounds so similar to “hoity toity” (haughty, pretentious). “. So wrote Rob Kyff who calls himself the word guy, a few years ago.
He is right about this. I remember being appalled by some who wanted to throw shade on Prince Charles for being an elitist snob because he played polo. They called him part of the polloi, which is the opposite of what they wanted to say.
So hoi polloi comes to mean the common folk and depending on your stance they are the salt of the earth, or knuckle dragging rubes. In my nastier moments I call them Cletus’ in belt buckles.
A good way to see how the Greek word applies is to read Romans 5 –
19 For just as through the disobedience of the one man the many were made sinners, so also through the obedience of the one man the many will be made righteous.
20 The law was brought in so that the trespass might increase. But where sin increased, grace increased all the more, 21 so that, just as sin reigned in death, so also grace might reign through righteousness to bring eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord.
So here is an example of a word that came to mean the opposite of what is does mean.
Recent events have got me thinking; what if many of the things happening around us are the opposite of what they seem? What if the so called struggle for equality and fairness is really elitism masked as caring, and egalitarianism is really the crassness form of prejudice ahainst the hoi polloi? More on this.