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Origin of pleb
Words nearby pleb
ABOUT THIS WORD
What else does pleb mean?
Where does pleb come from?
In Ancient Rome, the Plebians, or plebs, were the free “common citizens” of Rome, compared to the higher-positioned patricians, who generally enjoyed more social privileges, influence, and wealth.
English borrowed plebeian (“a commoner”) from Latin by the 1530s, adopting the more informal plebs shortly thereafter, by the 1590s. Plebs and plebeian were originally neutral terms, used historically of Ancient Rome and its populace.
Given its socio-historical origins, it’s easy to imagine the class-conscious English making an insult of the term. By the 17th century, plebeian was being used as a less-than-polite descriptor propagating negative English views of “commoners” and the “lower class.”
By the late 18th century, we can find the shortened pleb for “an unsophisticated person.” Pleb, as a modifier (e.g., pleb tastes), is more recent, recorded in the 1970s, and is generally used pejoratively to describe people, activities, or interests considered uncultured, gauchely mainstream, or otherwise inferior.
These days, pleb is a fairly common insult. In 2012, for instance, a British conservative politician (who, for all intents and purposes, we can consider something of a modern-day patrician) called a group of police officers plebs, leading to what was dubbed Plebgate—and his resignation.
Others have more of a sense of humor about pleb, such as the British TV historic comedy Plebs. Starting in 2013, the show follows the misadventures of some very pleb Ancient Roman Plebians.
How is pleb used in real life?
As the “Ancient Rome” part of its history implies, the word Pleb is an old one. Snooty 19th century aristocrats liked to sling the insult just as much as the crass Reddit gamers of today do.
For the English Victorians, pleb would have definitely implied “low class.” For the modern trash-talker, pleb means “inferior” more generally, with the implication something is lacking in sophistication, quality, or knowledge in some way. Even in contemporary use, pleb is still tinged with some classism.
So, for pleb, think basic, unsophisticated, or trashy in modern slang. It’s not above self-deprecation, of course.
More examples of pleb:
“What is a pleb? And how do you know you’re a pleb? / The issue of what is a pleb reared its common head after well-groomed Perthite Terence Borgioli said he was planning to open up a swanky, upmarket bar in Subiaco that banned them.”
—Sarah Tyler, Miss Nance, 1899
This content is not meant to be a formal definition of this term. Rather, it is an informal summary that seeks to provide supplemental information and context important to know or keep in mind about the term’s history, meaning, and usage.
Example sentences from the Web for pleb
There is no disguising the fact that Schubert, prince of musicians, was personally a hopeless little pleb.The Love Affairs of Great Musicians, Volume 2|Rupert Hughes
Max recalled the day of his début at West Point, a humble, modest "Pleb."A Soldier of the Legion|C. N. Williamson
Little did the pleb dream that he was up against a man of brains.Lord Stranleigh Abroad|Robert Barr
And I, unhappy, love with pure desire Sicinius, a soldier and a pleb!
Methinks He fears this pleb as he once feared Sicinius.Appius (haughtily).