The powerful ruling class has been described as "the machine", "the man", "patricians", "the establishment", and "big brother". I am looking for similar words to describe the 99%, aka the plebeians (and more specifically the proletariat).

  • Are you looking for words the members of this group use to describe themselves, or words the ruling class use to describe them? It makes a huge difference. – Monty Harder Feb 1 '16 at 19:56
  • That is a good question. Both are interesting and equally important to be honest. – omar.may Feb 1 '16 at 22:31
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    What is missing or not the right fit about the examples in your question? "the people", "the 99%", "the plebians", "the proletariat"? What characteristic(s) are you looking for which these lack? – user56reinstatemonica8 Feb 2 '16 at 13:03
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    I have never heard "the machine" used for the upper class, the powers that be. – Mr Lister Feb 2 '16 at 14:04
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    @MrLister Heard this one? Pink Floyd - Welcome To The Machine – DCShannon Feb 2 '16 at 16:59

13 Answers 13


The masses.

Credit to Emma Lazarus:

"Keep, ancient lands, your storied pomp!" cries she With silent lips. "Give me your tired, your poor, Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,

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    This is best. Some variations; the: commoners, workers, underclass, hoi polloi, many. – user326608 Feb 1 '16 at 7:55
  • Oooh... "The Machine and The Masses". I don't know if thats a book, band, or album, but I want it. – user53089 Feb 2 '16 at 2:14
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    Also the unwashed masses, more derogatorily. – dangph Feb 2 '16 at 8:28
  • "downtrodden masses" is another common, colourful pairing. – user56reinstatemonica8 Feb 2 '16 at 13:04

The Proles.

The Peons.

The subjects, the constituents, the electorate, or, according to a certain lighthearted author (not me) - the refuse of history.

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    Note that "Prole" is clearly intended to associate with "proletariat:. – WhatRoughBeast Feb 2 '16 at 18:08

With reference to a "machine", it would seem "cogs" would indicate serving an inferior function.

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    This could be a good one, though you should be careful to avoid a confusing metaphor since cogs are contained within a machine. It may suit your purposes but fits less well when cogs are rising up against the machine. – SuperBiasedMan Feb 1 '16 at 12:40
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    Cogs of the machine makes me think of government bureaucrats. – bjb568 Feb 3 '16 at 15:03

The People

Dictionary.com Definition:


the ordinary persons, as distinguished from those who have wealth, rank, influence, etc.

"a man of the people"


As a complement to "the Man", you have "the little guy".

  • I think "the little people" would be more appropriate in context. – emory Feb 2 '16 at 19:58
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    "Little People" has the connotation of fairies, etc. – user1359 Jan 22 '18 at 15:40

A specifically derogatory term is riffraff. Especially used for the lower classes:


the lowest classes; rabble:
the riffraff of the city.

Source: Dictionary.com


It sounds like you're looking for a political term. The best answers I can think of are stevesilva's suggestion or sheeple. Sheeple, of course, is a derogatory yet very accurate term for the masses - in some countries, at least.

Another possibility is proletariat, though it's a little more restrictive, referring primarily to the laboring class or the lower social classes.


The underdog

Slang A person or ​group of ​people with less ​power, ​money, etc. than the ​rest of ​society: As a ​politician, her ​sympathy was always for the underdog in ​society. CDO

The rabble

  1. People of a ​low ​social ​position: Her ​speech ​stirred the ​emotions of the rabble. CDO

  2. (Metallurgy) An iron tool or mechanical device for stirring, mixing, or skimming a molten charge in a roasting furnace CED

[C17: from French râble, from Latin rutābulum rake for a furnace, from ruere to rake, dig up]


(The) Hoi polloi: Oxford Dictionaries

The masses or common people.

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    Ironically, this word sounds so "hoity-toity" that I've run into people who think it refers to the elites, rather than to the masses. – Monty Harder Feb 1 '16 at 20:49
  • Those people need re-educating :) – seventyeightist Feb 1 '16 at 21:46
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    I try, but frequently am told that words mean what people who use them think they mean, which is quite depressing. In a case like this, by taking on a meaning opposite its original meaning, the word literally becomes meaningless. – Monty Harder Feb 1 '16 at 21:51
  • To be pedantic: the "hoi" is the article, so one wouldn't say "the hoi polloi". In English of course, that's exactly what we do say. Oh, and the contrast is hoi oligoi or "the few". – Sam Wilson Feb 2 '16 at 4:55
  • @Sam Wilson Yes, sadly a lot of people do say it though! – seventyeightist Feb 2 '16 at 7:45

The great unwashed.

great unwashed pl ‎(plural only)

  • (idiomatic) A contemptuous term for the populace, particularly the working class.

Source: Wiktionary

IMO, the contempt mirrors the hostility shown by phrases such as the machine.


If the machine in question is the war machine then the people would presumably correspond to cannon fodder.


Depending on the context, I think "the sheep" could work.


I would say 'the drones' would be accurate in this analogy - "A person who does tedious or menial work; a drudge"

Or given that definition 'the drudges' - "A person who does tedious, menial, or unpleasant work."

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