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I saw the phrase “the man with the monocle” in the following sentence of the article titled “Five myths about millionaires,” appearing in Washington Post September 24th issue:

“This past week, President Obama tried to sell his new “millionaires’ tax” to the Rust Belt. But who are the millionaires Obama is talking about? And will a tax on them help the economy? Let’s examine a few presumptions about the man with the monocle on the Monopoly board.”

The last line revived my vague memory that the chairman of a New York private bank and murderous villain, Bryce Fenston in Jeffery Archer’s mystery, “False Impression” used to wear a monocle.

I checked “man with the monocle” on Cambridge, Merriam-Webster, and Oxford Advanced Learner’s Dictionary, none of which registers “man with the monocle” as an idiom associated with “monocle,” but Wikipedia provides explanation of “monocle” as:

During the late 19th and early 20th centuries, the monocle was generally associated with wealthy upper-class men. Combined with a morning coat and a top-hat, the monocle completed the costume of the stereotypical 1890s capitalist.

From Wikipedia, I understand “man with the monocle” means “wealthy upper-class man.” However, is “man with the monocle” an idiom or just a figurative expression?

If I used “man with the monocle” in colloquial conversation instead of “wealthy man,” does it sound odd or pedantic?

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How is this actually a language question? –  tenfour Oct 26 '11 at 10:41
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@tenfour This seems to be a language question to me: If I used “man with the monocle” in colloquial conversation instead of “wealthy man,” does it sound odd or pedantic? –  onomatomaniak Oct 26 '11 at 11:11

5 Answers 5

The phrase is not just "the man with the monocle", it is "the man with the monocle on the Monopoly board". The writer is referring to the mascot of the board game Monopoly, who has been officially known at times as "Mr Monopoly" or Rich Uncle Pennybags. This figure is well known and is associated with money and greed.

The funny thing is that I can't find a picture or reference to him wearing a monocle. It seems like he should do, but looking at google images and wikipedia he only seems to wear tails, a top hat, and carry a cane. So either the author made a mistake by giving him a monocle, or he did have one at some time in the last 70-odd years, and has now lost it.

I could understand the meaning of the phrase "the man with the monocle on the Monopoly board", but you would be safer (although less alliterative) saying "the man with the top hat on the Monopoly board".

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Or you could say 'rich people'. –  Barrie England Oct 26 '11 at 10:38
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When I think of a man with a monocle, I just think of Mr. Peanut. –  tenfour Oct 26 '11 at 10:44
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From the Wikipedia article for 'monocle': During the late 19th and early 20th centuries, the monocle was generally associated with wealthy upper-class men. Combined with a morning coat and a top-hat, the monocle completed the costume of the stereotypical 1890s capitalist. Presumably the author has (unintentionally?) combined this imagery with that of the Monopoly character. –  Karl Knechtel Oct 26 '11 at 10:57
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@Yoichi: I'm surprised you never came across Monopoly in Japan - apparently there is a Tokyo edition. Living in France nearly 40 years ago I recall playing it across three boards at once (London, Paris, and New York versions). –  FumbleFingers Oct 26 '11 at 16:01
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@FumbleFingers.True. I was ridiculed by more than a dozen of friends of our English speaking club who are mostly in 40s to late 60s age group when I told them today that I didn’t know Monopoly board game. They have all played the game when they were young. I was only creature in the group who didn’t know Monopoly board and have never played it. They look at me as if they encountered a real ice man in the park. –  Yoichi Oishi Oct 27 '11 at 7:23

It's an allusion rather than an idiom and I would say it was best avoided. Many people won't immediately grasp what it means.

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  • it is a reasonably understood cultural reference.
  • that is not a set phrase/idiom. Any kind of phrase involving wearing a monocle would invoke the association.
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You've taken the phrase out of context; 'the man with the monocle on the Monopoly board' will be familiar to anyone who has played the game of Monopoly (that's not everyone in the world, admittedly, but it is the vast majority of the intended audience).

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I agree, although as Fillet answered, Monopoly man doesn't wear a monocle. –  Hugo Oct 26 '11 at 11:07

To add to the other answers, the "man with the monocle" is more than just a wealthy man.
He is an extremely wealthy man.

Remember, a million dollars isn't nearly as much as it was in the 1890's.
The "man with the monocle" implies the richest of the rich. Something like the top .001% of the population.

Bender with monocle

Turanga Leela: Do we really need to wear these top hats?
Bender: I don't think you realize how rich he really is. In fact, I should put on a monocle.

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