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. Feb 1, 2016 at 19:56
  • That is a good question. Both are interesting and equally important to be honest.
    – omar.may
    Feb 1, 2016 at 22:31
  • 8
    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? Feb 2, 2016 at 13:03
  • 3
    I have never heard "the machine" used for the upper class, the powers that be.
    – Mr Lister
    Feb 2, 2016 at 14:04
  • 2
    @MrLister Heard this one? Pink Floyd - Welcome To The Machine
    – DCShannon
    Feb 2, 2016 at 16:59

12 Answers 12


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,

  • 4
    This is best. Some variations; the: commoners, workers, underclass, hoi polloi, many.
    – user326608
    Feb 1, 2016 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, 2016 at 2:14
  • 1
    Also the unwashed masses, more derogatorily.
    – dangph
    Feb 2, 2016 at 8:28
  • "downtrodden masses" is another common, colourful pairing. Feb 2, 2016 at 13:04

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

  • 2
    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. Feb 1, 2016 at 12:40
  • 1
    Cogs of the machine makes me think of government bureaucrats.
    – bjb568
    Feb 3, 2016 at 15:03

The Proles.

The Peons.

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

  • 2
    Note that "Prole" is clearly intended to associate with "proletariat:. Feb 2, 2016 at 18:08

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, 2016 at 19:58
  • 1
    "Little People" has the connotation of fairies, etc.
    – user1359
    Jan 22, 2018 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


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.

  • 4
    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. Feb 1, 2016 at 20:49
  • Those people need re-educating :) Feb 1, 2016 at 21:46
  • 1
    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. Feb 1, 2016 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, 2016 at 4:55
  • @Sam Wilson Yes, sadly a lot of people do say it though! Feb 2, 2016 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.


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."


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

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