What Does The Great Unwashed Mean?

The Great Unwashed Meaning

Definition: The working class.

A similar term in hoi polloi.

Origin of the Great Unwashed

This expression is pejorative and refers to people who do not have much money, or who lack a formal education. It can also be used in a more open sense to mean the general public.

It’s not known who exactly coined this phrase. Two early examples are found in the novel Paul Clifford, written by Edward Bulwer Lytton in the year 1830, and Theodore Hook’s The Parson’s Daughter, written in 1833.

The idea behind the expression was that the lower classes were dirty and worth less than the people who were part of the more elite classes. Therefore, depending on the context, this expression can imply contempt for the general population.

Examples of the Great Unwashed

great unwashed masses In this dialogue, two employees are discussing whom will their boss will hire to join their department.

Deanna: I can’t believe our boss didn’t agree to hire one of the friends we recommended for this position!

Emily: I know! We both suggested some really good candidates that we know from school. I understand that she doesn’t want to show favoritism, but think about it. Wouldn’t it be better to hire someone that we already know is good for the job, rather than randomly picking someone from the great unwashed?

Deanna: I couldn’t agree more!

great unwashed masses In the second example, two baseball players are discussing the crowd that is booing at them.

Billy: Where are all our supporters? The whole crowd is booing at us. Why is everyone rooting for the other team when we’re playing in our hometown?

Angie: The people booing at us are our own fans.

Billy: What? Are you serious?

Angie: Yes. They are angry because they are mad about the decision our coach made.

Billy: Well, surely the coach knows better than the great unwashed. Our fans should respect his opinion!

Angie: Maybe you’re right, but telling the crowd that probably won’t convince the people who are booing.

More Examples

This excerpt is about the NBA draft.

  • The howls will be louder than in 1987, when the Pacers ignored the great unwashed and chose Reggie Miller over Steve Alford. –OC Register

This excerpt is about how people on opposite ends of the political spectrum can feel towards one another.

  • But because a comeuppance is due the arrogant elites whose undisguised contempt for the great unwashed prevents them from conceding a modicum of serious thought to those who dare oppose them. –OC Register


The expression the great unwashed refers to the common people, or the populace in general.