Tuesday, August 29, 2006


A Deadly Combination

Euripides, Orestes 772 (tr. E.P. Coleridge):
A terrible thing is the mob, when it has villains to lead it.

δεινὸν οἱ πολλοί, κακούργους ὅταν ἔχωσι προστάτας.

If you've never studied Greek, you still might be able to recognize the first three words of this quotation, deinon hoi polloi. I'm a little puzzled by the entry in the Online Etymology Dictionary s.v. dinosaur:
1841, coined by Sir Richard Owen, from Gk. deinos "terrible" + sauros "lizard," of unknown origin. Fig. sense of "person or institution not adapting to change" is from 1952.
How can the word dinosaur be of unknown origin, if we know who coined it and from what Greek roots? As for the secondary meaning "person or institution not adapting to change," see the last paragraph of C.S. Lewis' 1954 lecture De Descriptione Temporum.

In its article on hoi polloi, Merriam Webster's Concise Dictionary of English Usage discusses two issues concerning this expression, its use with "the" (hoi means "the," so "the hoi polloi" is "the the many") and its use to mean "the snobby elite." Only the snobby elite, I suppose, would object to these two uses of hoi polloi.

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