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“Pleb” is a shorthand for the English noun “plebeian,” an outdated term which originally referred to a commoner belonging to a lower socioeconomic class in ancient Rome. Online, the term has been often used as a pejorative label for someone who is considered unsophisticated or uncultured, or a person that can be compared as poor to the speaker.
According to the Online Etymology Dictionary, the earliest known appearance of the word “plebeian” in English was used in the 1530s to describe the class of citizens who were not members of the ruling class in ancient Rome. Meanwhile, The earliest appearance of the colloquial shorthand “pleb” can be found in Irish writer John O’Keefe’s 1795 comedic play Life’s Vagaries, as cited by the Oxford Dictionaries blog:
“You’re under my roof, you pleb.”
On April 15th, 2000, The Guardian published an article titled “Are you a snob or a pleb,” which discussed various examples of friction setting the “old money” and “new money” apart within the wealthy class. On December 28th, 2001, GenForum member Annie posted a thread asking for the definition of the word “pleb” in the context of a baptism certification. On February 10th, 2004, Urban Dictionary user Win submitted an entry for pleb, defining it as a “member of a despised social class.” The word was seldom used online until September 30th, 2011 with the launch of the website PLEBTalks, which parodies the talks given at the global TED conferences.
In September of 2012, United Kingdom Conservative Party Chief Whip Andrew Mitchell was rumored to have used the word pleb as an insult during a confrontation with law enforcement officers. On September 16th, Redditor J0j2 submitted a screenshot of a 4chan green text story about having pleb friends as a Roman aristocrat (shown below) to the /r/4chan subreddit. Prior to being archived, the post gained over 3,200 up votes and 30 comments.
On September 25th, The Oxford Dictionaries log published an article noting a surge in popularity for searches for the word “pleb” on the dictionary website following the Andrew Mitchell incident (shown below). On October 23rd, FunnyJunk user unusualrex submitted a screenshot of a 4chan green text story ending with the expression “pleb as fuck” (shown below, right) On January 16th, 2013, a post was submitted to the /lit/ (literature) board on 4chan asking for users to clarify the definition of the word pleb.