Vox populi

[voks pop-yuh-lahy]
Vox populi, a Latin phrase that literally means voice of the people, is a term often used in broadcasting for interviews of members of the "general public".

Vox pop, the man in the street

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, broadcast journalists almost always refer to them as the abbreviated vox pop. In U.S. broadcast journalism it is often referred to as a man on the street interview or M.O.T.S.

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

Proverbial use

Often quoted as, Vox populi, vox dei, "The voice of the people [is] the voice of God", is an old proverb often erroneously attributed to William of Malmesbury in the twelfth century.

Another early reference to the expression is in a letter from Alcuin to Charlemagne in 798, although it is believed to have been in earlier use. The full quotation from Alcuin reads:

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

Cultural References

  • "Vox Populi" is a paper by Sir Francis Galton, first published in the March 7, 1907 issue of Nature that mathematically demonstrates the "wisdom of crowds.
  • In the 1976 satire Network, one of the segments on The Howard Beale Show is called Vox Populi. Even though it is only mentioned and the segment is never seen, one can assume it involves the general public and their opinions.
  • In V for Vendetta (2005), V uses the phrase vox populi in his introductory speech. "....This visage, no mere veneer of vanity, is the vestige of the VOX POPULI now vacant, vanished...". The phrase is also used within the graphic novel serving as the basis for the movie, where it is a chapter title.
  • Also used in Ayn Rand's Fountainhead by Ellsworth Toohey.
  • Mentioned in Hable Con Ella or Talk to Her (2002) during a conversation between the nurses in the break room at the hospital that houses the two female coma patients. One of the nurses asks if the other thinks that Benigno is gay, and the nurses replies that that sentiment is "vox populi".
  • "Vox Populi" is the title of the eleventh episode of the TV series Jericho.
  • "Vox Populi" is the name of a popular upscale restaurant in Boston's back bay neighborhood.
  • "Vox Populi" is the motto of the Alabama House of Representatives.
  • The Voice Of God Collective is the name of a group led by jazz guitarist Billy Jenkins.
  • "Vox Populi" is the name of an album of Slavi Trifonov, one of the most famous Bulgarian singers.
  • "Vox Populi" is the name of a book written in 1979, by Timothy E. Gregory about ancient Roman public will.
  • "Vox Populi" is the name of a fictional German Rock band in the textbook Deutsch Heute
  • "Vox Populi" is a nonprofit artist collective and gallery space in downtown Philadelphia.
  • The "Vox Populi Vocal Ensemble" is a mixed-voice a capella chamber choir based in Berkeley, California that specializes in performing the choral music of the Renaissance.
  • "Vox Populi" is the name of the blog of the Georgetown Voice, Georgetown University's weekly newsmagazine.
  • "Vox Populi" is the title of an orchestral work by Richard Danielpour (also transcribed for wind band by Jack Stamp).

See also


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