Wordwatch - No 242
On this week's Xtra Factor (ITV2) Ben Shephard said that the contestants had been meeting 'the hoi polloi of the celebrity world'. This reversal of the meaning of 'hoi polloi' is one of the most common mistakes in English today.
'Hoi Polloi' means 'the common people' or even 'the rabble' and comes from the Greek for 'the many'.
If you were going to use the phrase 'the hoi polloi of celebrity' you'd be talking about the X Factor contestants themselves and, without wishing to be rude, the presenter Ben Shepherd.
The contestants in question had met Michael Jackson. There are many things you can call Jacko but being one of the 'hoi polloi' is not one of them. I'm sure there's a Greek word for someone with his alleged tastes and he would probably have felt very at home in Ancient Greece but you would never bracket the King of Pop with the mass of humanity.
'Hoi Polloi' was also used in Britain for university students who graduated without Honours but I doubt that it's used in that context now. You dont hear much about 'Honours Degrees' these days and the appellation 'BA (Hons)' seems less common.
Indeed, now that so many people go to university it seems a bit naff or pretentious to put 'BA' on your business cards or letterhead.
A boy I once shared a flat with used to hide the letters from his mother because she always put '(BA)' on the envelope.
A new term amongst students is 'I got a Desmond'. This means they got a 2.2 degree and comes from 'Desmond Tutu'.
That one's going to puzzle people in 50 or 100 years' time.
I have inadvertently revealed that not only do I watch the X Factor but also the Xtra Factor and, a new programme, The X Factor 24/7.
Oh come on, people. If I had a life do you think I'd be writing this blog every day?
Having raised the subject, I must say that the standard is much higher this year and the decisions of the voting public and the judges even more infuriating.
Where do you stand on the Chico Question?
Although I live alone and am free to swear at the television, I rarely use the 'c' word. But I do whenever Chico appears and it's not 'Chico!' I'm shouting. He's almost caused me to change my views on capital punishment. I have such a powerful, visceral repugnance towards this man that I have to keep a sick bucket next to my chair.
That rather odd new term 'up himself' could have been invented for him. It takes an extreme and mis-placed form of chutzpah for someone only in a talent show and who can't sing a note to start inventing catch-phrases and putting his own name into the songs he's singing. But at least the producers must be delighted with the amount of press coverage he's generating.