They called themselves the Munrungs. It meant The People, or The True Human Beings. It's what most people call themselves, to begin with. And then one day the tribe meets some other people and calls them The Other People or, if it's not been a good day, The Enemy. If only they'd think up a name like Some More True Human Beings, it'd save a lot of trouble later on.
The Proud Warrior Race
of Noble Savages
has what the heroes perceive as a simple, possibly even backwards
, culture. During their talks or negotiations (or heated battles), however, they'll run into one nearly incomprehensible
linguistic and cultural custom: Their name for their tribe is translated "The People", but the name they have for the heroes? "Not-People".
That's right. They don't consider outsiders to be proper people. This might just be a curiosity mentioned in passing, but usually it indicates that their culture has a high degree of xenophobia, isolationism
or both. It might just be a benign way of saying "part of this tribe, not a part of this tribe". At worst, it means they have a codified Moral Myopia
that makes them view not-people as animals at best. To be put down when dangerous or annoying... or if they're too ugly and they're bored.
A more moderate standpoint might just be that they consider "not-people" to be anyone who doesn't live their way of life, rather than as a biological imperative. In this case, other people or societies that share their values (be it honor, war or harmony with nature) will be considered "of the people". On that note, someone who is Going Native
will become "of the people" after adapting to their culture and winning honor.
For some reason, no one argues
with their exclusionist views. Alternately, heroes who share similar
, unspoken sentiments
and act in exactly the same ways may either be called out on it
, or fail to notice
their own hypocrisy
when calling them out on their values.
sometimes points out human/alien dichotomy as an example of this trope.
This trope is inspired by—but not the same as—a fairly common occurrence in the names that peoples historically gave to themselves and their neighbors. The most famous example in the West is the autonym (name given to themselves) of the Germans of late antiquity and the early Middle Ages, diutisc
means "of the people
" and is reflected in the modern German word Deutsch
("German", with the meaning "of the people" known only as a curiosity to the linguistically inclined) and the English word "Dutch" (which Netherlandish people haven't used for centuries). Its linguistic opposite was Walha(z)
, "stranger" or "foreigner", which gave its name to such diverse places as Wallonia
, and Wales
, which have in common that they were places Germanic people met non-Germanic ones. Similarly, the word "Slav" is derived from a common Slavic word for "speech" or "talk"; the Slavic peoples often applied the term "nemetsi" (or similar terms), meaning "mute", to their neighbors, particularly Germans (resulting in many Slavic languages having derived words for Germany and German—and Persian and Arabic calling Austria Nimsa
to this day). On a related note, "Inuit" means "the people" in Inuktitut.
As you may have noticed, these terms identify the group as "the people" or "the speaking ones"—they don't deny other groups' humanity, they simply identify themselves as a people—as in a nation/tribe/whatever—and foreigners as, well, foreigners—human, but not of the nation/tribe/group. As a result, these are not
examples, nor are most similar linguistic situations; ones that arguably are can cause conflict, so No Real Life Examples, Please!
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- In Black Panther ,Wakandans are somewhat xenophobic and racist. They tend to view foreigners as barbarians and avoid doing business with them. When one government official suggests giving Westerners the Cure For Cancer, T'Challa overrules him, fearing that they would somehow turn the cure into a weapon.
- The Na'vi in Avatar skirt very close to this trope. When Jake finally wins them over and joins the tribe, their ceremony explicitly says he is now "of the people". They also call humans "sky people", so they aren't exactly dehumanizing (hee) us.
- The Na'vi word for human, "tawtute", is a compound of taw (sky) and tute (individual being).
- In Little Big Man, the character played by Dustin Hoffman used the term "Human Being"note when referring to "The People".
- In The Gods Must Be Crazy, the Bushman apparently considers non-black people to be some kind of ugly man-child who can't speak normally (since their languages lack the clicking consonants), are illiterate (since they can't interpret the animal tracks) and rude (because they don't greet the Bushman when they meet him), and wear cobwebs for clothes.
- In many of the works of Zenna Henderson there's a group of humanoid aliens living on Earth that refers to themselves as "The People" in so many words. They arrived here around the turn of the 20th century, when their Home planet exploded. They look human enough to pass for human, provided they're not flying at the time, or doing one of the many other wondrous feats they're known and loved for by generations of SF readers. While some isolated Groups on Earth attempt to suppress and deny their heritage, others continue to use their powers discreetly. While continuing to call themselves "The People", they refer to the inhabitants of Earth as "Outsiders", and there's a distinct sense that they continue to call themselves that as a way of reminding themselves that they are not human.
- The name Mri in C. J. Cherryh's Faded Sun trilogy means "people". What do these cat like aliens call humans and regul? Tsi-mri, "not-people". This makes the entry of Duncan into their society all the more noteworthy, and the inclusion three humans in their holy records unheard of for any other species. They're still unapologetic space elves though (but we like them anyway).
- Terry Pratchett's The Carpet People. See page quote.
- This trope is deeply examined by Pratchett's co-authors in the Science of Discworld books, in which Cohen and Stewart refer to the cultural conditioning and education of children as the "Make-A-Human-Being Kit". Every tribe has one exclusive to itself, and if you grew up in a culture that uses a different version of the Kit, your status as a True Human Being is probationary at best.
- A similar idea is used in Interesting Times, though with countries instead of people:
It is more than just a wall, it is a marker. On one side is the Empire, which in the Agatean language is a word identical with "universe". On the other side is - nothing. After all, the universe is everything there is.
Oh, there may appear to be things, like sea, islands, other continents, and so on. They may even appear solid, it may be possible to conquer them, walk on them... but they are not ultimately real. The Agatean word for foreigner is the same as the word for ghost, and only one brush stroke away from the word for victim.
- The Artemis Fowl fairies refer to themselves as The People. Even the few humans who have contact with them, such as Artemis, use that name. They refer to humans as Mud Men.
- The Atan people of David Eddings' Tamuli are a bog-standard Proud Warrior Race, so naturally it's mentioned at one point that they consider everyone else to be non-humans. In a bit of a twist, though, they've long since sold themselves as slaves to the Tamul Empire, because without an external interest directing their warlike tendencies they would quickly devolve into constant civil war.
- Diane Duane's Trek novel Spock's World gives many details of the history Vulcan, including "The Sundering." "United Federation of Planets" translates into Rihan (aka Romulan) as "Them, from There." And Klingon Empire as "More of Them, from Somewhere Else."
- In Mary Doria Russell's speculative fiction novel, The Sparrow, one of the two species of aliens present in the work refer to themselves as the "Runa," which simply translates into "the people." However, the Runa seem very tolerant of the differences of outsiders. When a group of humans make first contact with some Runa, the villagers dub them "foreigners," using a word that literally means "people from the next river valley."
- The aliens inhabiting Jupiter in Isaac Asimov's short story "Not Final!" alternate between this and comparing humans to vermin.
- Treecats in Honor Harrington call themselves The People and call humans "two-legs". This is not out of disdain; they are in fact rather in awe of humans.
- This does not mean that in the early days of contact between the two races Treecats did not have intense debates over whether or not humans could even count as "people." When the race of exclusively telepathic and empathic 'cats first sees humanity they're absolutely baffled by our "mouth noises" and aren't even sure we're capable of communicating at all. As time goes on, while impressed with humanity's tools, they frequently pity our "mind-blindness," and inability to know what other humans are feeling.
- Steven Brust renders this attitude by having Dragaerans (elves, more or less) and Easterners (humans, apparently), referring to themselves as "humans", and considering the other group not humans.
- The Ai-Naidar of Kherishdar consider themselves people, and everything else including aliens "other" - humans are in some way lumped in with rocks and animals (and gods, oddly enough).
- In Speaker For The Dead, it's explained that there are four words for the varying kinds of 'people' that by the end of the book have become commonplace- one for the person of your own tribe/family/city (ones' kin and equals), one for the person of another country/city/world (capable of sharing a community, communicating, and living as equals), one for the person who is of another species (who can at least be communicated with and thus peaceful co-existance achieved), and one for the truly alien or savage beast (with whom no communication can take place, usually meaning one side will destroy or dominate the other in order to be safe).
- The Human-Bugger wars were the result of both sides assuming the other was type 4, leading to first humans and then the buggers being pushed to the brink of extinction. When humanity encounters another (far less technologically advanced) alien species, they resolve to avoid the mistakes of the past (those made with the buggers and with other humans during the age of european colonialism) and treat them as type 3. There is to be no exploitation of their resources, no colonization of their planet, no cultural contamination or attempts at religious conversion. What they don't realize is these aliens are smart enough to realize this is still a lopsided deal that will leave them with one little stone-age planet while humanity fills in all the other worlds around them. What they want is to be treated as "of the people" by humanity, to share in the exploration and colonization of the galaxy as equals.
- The Temuji of the Ranger's Apprentice series have named themselves The People. Anyone who isn't them isn't a person, and so they have no more qualms about killing others - no matter how old or young - than we have of stepping on an ant.
- In The Immortals by Tamora Pierce, the animals—all of them—call themselves the People, and any with Wild Magic are considered People as well.
- The rabbits of Watership Down have their own language, and they have words for almost everything. Notably though, they don't have a word for "rabbit". Given how they consider all other animals to be either stupid, evil or both, it's possible that they don't even have one.
- In Traveller the Aslan name themselves Fteir which means "People of honor". Which doesn't mean non-aslan are not people, just that they are dishonorable.
- Forgotten Realms elves use simple terms "the people" and "not people".
Usually more often than not the latter term have no elitist subtext attached, but depending on context may annoy even some elves. Funny part is that after drow were "divorced" from the main elven community, both began to call each other "not people".
- Dolphins in Rifts refer to Humans and only Humans as "Land People". Non-humans who also happen to be landlubbers are only referred to as "Others". Taking it a step further, Humans who live and work on the sea are given an extra step up and called "Boat People".
- In older versions of Dungeons & Dragons, Halflings in their own language refer to themselves as "The People" and use other words (not all complimentary) for other races. This is used to justify why their general name is a bit of a slur against their height whereas other races have names derived from their own languages (in general).
- Among the various names for the Uratha is "the People."
- Cyrano de Bergerac: At act II Scene VI, Roxane and Cyrano discuss this trope about the attitude the Gascon Cadets take if you want to be part of the regiment not being a Gascon. The Genre Savvy Roxane ask Cyrano his help to avert this trope with Christian. At Act II Scene IX, we see this trope played straight: Christian is from Touraine, and that means he is not a Gascon, so he is ostracized, is being given an Embarrassing Nickname, and he is subjected to the charming Initiation Ceremony (condoned by the otherwise benevolent Captain Carbon!) consisting of a Dare to Be Badass to Bully The Dragon by mentioning the word “nose” to Cyrano.
Roxane: Nay, but I felt a terror, here, in the heart,
On learning yesterday you were Gascons
All of your company...
Cyrano: And we provoke
All beardless sprigs that favor dares admit
'Midst us pure Gascons—(pure! Heaven save the mark!
They told you that as well?
Roxane: Ah! Think how I
Trembled for him!
Cyrano: (between his teeth): Not causelessly!
Live Action TV
- In the Star Trek: TOS episode Return of the Archons, outsiders were said to be not of the body.
- In the 1982 Doctor Who serial Kinda, the Kinda refer to themselves as "we" and outsiders as "not-we".
- Some Doctor Who fans refer to non-fans as "the not We".
- Played pretty straight in Dragon Age. Elves refer to themselves as Elvhen ("The People"), Humans are Shemlen ("Quick Children") and Dwarves are Durgen'len ("Children of the Stone").
- The term Shemlen for Humans is the most frequently used and noteworthy. The name derives from the fact that Elves were originally said to have been immortal, until exposure to humans caused them to suffer a quickening and become mortal themselves. Due to this and a long tumultuous history between the groups, the term Shemlen has naturally garnered a rather pejorative meaning, although it can be used neutrally.