I noticed there is a Vox Populi badge. Which era of Latin does Vox Populi come from? I only know a very little bit of classical (I'm starting the second unit of the Cambridge course), and from that, my guess is it could be popular voice, or speaking for the public, which makes sense given the definition. However, I don't know if it comes from ecclesiastical, classical, neo, vulgar, or contemporary Latin. Which Latin does it come from?


3 Answers 3


I agree with cmw's use of Etymonline to date the use of the standalone phrase vox populi to the 16th century, and the use of vox populi, vox dei to earlier medieval usage. I think, however, a bit more backstory on that might be interesting.

A Sketch of the Life of Randolph Fairfax ... Including a Brief Account of Jackson's Celebrated Valley Campaign by Philip Slaughter and Randolph Fairfax (quite an old book, but likely no less reliable). It includes several famous uses of vox populi that predate the 1540s.

Notes Vol 3 p 254 Notices to Correspondents. - EM. Vox populi vox Dei were the words chosen by Archbishop Mepham for his sermon when Edward III was called to the throne. See 'Notes and Queries' vol 1 pp 376 419 492 for further illustrations.

"Mepham" refers to Simon Mepeham, and the mentioned Edward III is certainly Edward III of England. This would put the date of this reference at about 1 February 1327.

The writer will, however, find that the earliest known instances of the use of the saying are by William of Malmesbury, who, speaking of Odo yielding his consent to be Archbishop of Canterbury, A.D. 920, says: 'Re Mud Proverbium, Vox, Populi Vox Dei,' and by Walter Reynolds, Archbishop of Canterbury, who as we learn from Walsingham, took it as his text for the sermon which he preached when Edward III was called to the throne, from which the people had pulled down Edward II.

I consider this a somewhat interesting alternate account, because both Mepeham and Reynolds are credited differently with the use of the phrase at about the same time. "Odo", by the way, almost certainly refers to Oda of Canterbury.

Note that there is a claim mentioned of William Hamilton that states that his translation of Hesiod's Works and Days ends with a similar phrase (which would have been in Greek), but I can't find any evidence to suggest that he is right. If he was right, then this would, of course, put the origin of the phrase back another 1500 years or so, but I find it a little doubtful.

I find it interesting that this corresponds quite well with the English Wikipedia article on vox populi, which I did not expect, despite different references being cited.

  • The Hesiod reference is probably to this: Ἥφαιστον δ᾽ ἐκέλευσε περικλυτὸν ὅττι τάχιστα / γαῖαν ὕδει φύρειν, ἐν δ᾽ ἀνθρώπου θέμεν αὐδὴν / καὶ σθένος (Hes. W&D 60-62), which I translate as: "[Zeus] ordered renowned Hephaestus to as quickly as possible mix earth with water and place voice and strength in man."
    – cmw
    Commented Mar 16, 2016 at 0:46

Vox Populi means "voice of the people," as populi is the genitive (= possessive) of populus, "people".

Incidentally, vox popularis would still mean the same thing, as popularis is just the adjectival form of populus. This would be the voice that the common people share, as opposed to elites, nobility, the government, etc.

For a meaning of something closer to "popular opinion" (i.e. an opinion shared and approved of by many, you'd want to use celebris, clara, probata, or nota, which would give it the meaning of "celebrated, distinguished, highly esteemed or noteworthy/famous".

Etymonline explains the origin:

vox populi, 1540s, Latin, literally "voice of the people." The full maxim (first attested in Medieval Latin) is vox populi, vox Dei "the voice of the people is the voice of God." Short form vox pop attested by 1964.

Interestingly, it does appear in Classical sources, but not with the same sort of codified connotations that it's used today:

una vox universi populi Romani consulem declaravit. One voice of the whole people of Rome declared that I be consul.

(Cic. De Lege Agraria 2.2.4)

But as you can see, it's being used for the whole of Rome, not just the 'common man.'

Cicero uses it in this manner again in the Pro Flacco:

Sed quid ea commemoro quae tum cum agebantur uno consensu omnium, una voce populi Romani, uno orbis terrae testimonio in caelum laudibus efferebantur.


There's at least one earlier instance of vox populi: Isaiah 66:6, in the Vulgate (fourth century):

vox populi de civitate

Jerome was translating from Hebrew texts believed to be similar to those used in modern English translations, several of which have:

KJV: A voice of noise from the city
NASB: A voice of uproar from the city
ESV: The sound of an uproar from the city
NABRE: A voice roaring from the city

So we see that the phrase vox populi here is not used in its modern sense of "popular opinion," but it still can be seen to capture the idea of the voice or noise of people.

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