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Vox populi (/ˌvɒks ˈpɒpjuːli, -l/ VOKS POP-yoo-lee, -lye)[1] is a Latin phrase that literally means "voice of the people". It is used in English in the meaning "the opinion of the majority of the people".[1][2] In journalism, vox pop or man on the street refers to short interviews with members of the public.[3]


Man on the streetEdit

A vox pop interview

American television personality Steve Allen as the host of The Tonight Show further developed the "man on the street" interviews and audience-participation comedy breaks that have become commonplace on late-night TV. Usually the interviewees are shown in public places, and supposed to be giving spontaneous opinions in a chance encounter – unrehearsed persons, not selected in any way. As such, journalists almost always refer to them as the abbreviated vox pop.[4] In U.S. broadcast journalism it is often referred to as a man on the street interview or MOTS.[5]

The results of such an interview are unpredictable at best, and therefore vox pop material is usually edited down very tightly. This presents difficulties of balance, in that the selection used ought to be, from the point of view of journalistic standards, a fair cross-section of opinions.

Although the two can be quite often confused, a vox pop is not a form of a survey. Each person is asked the same question; the aim is to get a variety of answers and opinions on any given subject. Journalists are usually instructed to approach a wide range of people to get varied answers from different points of view. The interviewees should be of various ages, sexes, classes and communities so that the diverse views and reactions of the general people will be known.

Generally, the vox pop question will be asked of different persons in different parts of streets or public places. But as an exception, in any specific topic or situation which is not concerned to general people, the question can be asked only in a specific group to know what the perception/reaction is of that group to the specific topic or issue; e.g., a question can be asked to a group of students about the quality of their education.

With increasing public familiarity with the term, several radio and television programs have been named "vox pop" in allusion to this practice.

Proverbial useEdit

The Latin phrase Vox populi, vox Dei (/ˌvɒks ˈpɒpjuːli ˌvɒks ˈdi/), 'The voice of the people [is] the voice of God', is an old proverb.

An early reference to the expression is in a letter from Alcuin to Charlemagne in 798.[6] The full quotation from Alcuin reads:

Nec audiendi qui solent dicere, Vox populi, vox Dei, quum tumultuositas vulgi semper insaniae proxima sit.[7]

English translation:

And those people should not be listened to who keep saying the voice of the people is the voice of God, since the riotousness of the crowd is always very close to madness.[8]

This passage indicates that already by the end of the eighth century the phrase had become an aphorism of political common wisdom. Writing in the early 12th century, William of Malmesbury refers to the saying as a "proverb".[9]

Of those who promoted the phrase and the idea, Archbishop of Canterbury Walter Reynolds brought charges against King Edward II in 1327 in a sermon "Vox populi, vox Dei".[10][11]

Cultural referencesEdit

  • "Vox Populi" is a paper by Sir Francis Galton, first published in the 7 March 1907 issue of Nature, that demonstrates the "wisdom of the crowd" by a statistical analysis of the guesses from a weight-judging contest.[12]
  • Vox Populi is a book by Timothy E. Gregory and published in 1979 that explores 5th-century religious tension in the Middle East.
  • "Vox Populi" is on the seal of the Alabama House of Representatives.[13]
  • "Vox Populi" is a song from the group Thirty Seconds to Mars on their album This Is War.
  • "Vox Populi" is the name of a resistance movement, led by Daisy Fitzroy, in the game BioShock Infinite.
  • "Vox Populi" is mentioned in a speech by the character "V" in the film V for Vendetta.
  • "Vox Populi" is the name of the 11th episode of the first season of the CBS television series Jericho.
  • The quote "Vox populi, vox Dei" is used by Sherlock Holmes in releasing Captain Crocker from his custody in the story The Adventure of the Abbey Grange.
  • The quote "Vox populi, vox Dei" is mentioned by Joey Lucas (played by Marlee Matlin) in a conversation with Josh Lyman (played by Bradley Whitford) in the 16th episode of the first season of The West Wing.
  • The quote "Vox populi, vox Dei" is used by Ayn Rand in the 6th chapter of her 1943 novel The Fountainhead, by Ellsworth M. Toohey in reference to the fall of Henry Cameron from the world of architecture.
  • "Vox Populi" is the name of a song by Greek electronica band Stereo Nova.
  • Vox pops were included in many episodes of Monty Python's Flying Circus, often revealing extremist or especially dull positions of the interviewed persons.
  • Vox pops have been a recurring segment on The Tonight Show, particularly during the hosting runs of Steve Allen and Jay Leno. Allen's man-on-the-street interviews were usually fictional characters played by actors, including an early version of Barney Fife. Leno's vox pops, dubbed "Jaywalking," involved Leno asking questions with easy or obvious answers and the people on the street getting the answers wrong.
  • A regular segment on The Howard Beale Show in the movie Network (1976) is called "Vox Populi".
  • "Vox Populi" is the name of the blog maintained by The Georgetown Voice, a Georgetown University publication that offers campus and community news.
  • A variant was used in the 1920 United States presidential election, in which the main candidates were Warren G. Harding and James M. Cox: "Cox or Harding, Harding or Cox? / You tell us, populi, you got the vox."[14]
  • "Vox Populi" Award given to the horse whose popularity and racing excellence best resounded with the American public and gained recognition for Thoroughbred racing.
  • "Vox Pop" is the name of the fictional band in Saradha Koirala's rock and roll teen novel Lonesome When You Go (Makaro Press, NZ 2016)
  • "Vox Populi, Vox Dei" is the name of a column, running daily on the first page of the Japaneses newspaper Asahi Shimbun.

See alsoEdit


  1. ^ a b "Vox Populi". Oxford Dictionaries (online). Oxford University Press.
  2. ^ Merriam Webster; Random House
  3. ^ Sally Adams (2001). Interviewing for Journalists. Psychology Press. p. 10. ISBN 978-0-415-22914-2. 
  4. ^ David Stephenson (1998). How to Succeed in Newspaper Journalism. Kogan Page. p. 34. ISBN 0-7494-2514-8. 
  5. ^ Prato, Lou (April 1999). "Easy to Do, But Often Worthless". American Journalism Review. Retrieved 28 December 2010. 
  6. ^ Mackie, P; Sim, F (2007). "A Question of Rhetoric". Journal of the Royal Institute of Public Health. 121: 641–642 – via Public Health Journal. 
  7. ^ The Concise Oxford Dictionary of Quotations, third edition, Oxford University Press, 1993.
  8. ^ "Alcuinus on Vox pops, Vox populi, Vox pop". Archived from the original on 4 May 2009. Retrieved 2007-04-22. 
  9. ^ Martin Rule (1883). The Life and Times of St. Anselm, Archbishop of Canterbury and Primate of the Britains. II. Kegan Paul Trench & Co. p. 67. 
  10. ^ David Lagomarsino, Charles T. Wood (2000). The Trial of Charles I: A Documentary History. "As far back as 1327, in pronouncing the deposition of Edward II, the Archbishop of Canterbury Walter Reynolds had taken as his justifying text the old Carolingian adage Vox populi, vox Dei, 'The voice of the people is the voice of God.'"
  11. ^ Philip Hamburger Law and Judicial Duty 2009 Page 74 "At the meeting of this high court early in 1327, Archbishop of Canterbury Walter Reynolds brought charges against the king, ... homage to the prince, and Archbishop Reynolds — the son of a baker — preached on the text Vox populi, vox Dei.
  12. ^ Francis Galton. "Vox Populi". 7 March 1907.
  13. ^ "Alabama State Legislature". Archived from the original on 15 January 2012. Retrieved 8 October 2011. 
  14. ^ Safire, William (2008). Safire's Political Dictionary. Oxford University Press. p. 783. ISBN 0195343344. Retrieved 18 November 2015. 

External linksEdit