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.
Speculative Fiction sometimes points out human/alien dichotomy as an example of this trope.
Real-world tribal peoples, by contrast, are much more likely to call themselves "those who speak eloquently" and their neighbors "the people who don't know how to talk." note Peoples who call themselves "the only real people" are few and far between; peoples who call their neighbors "not real people" are practically unknown. A rare exception may be the various European biologists of the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries who proposed that other ethnic groups were actually different species. Their theories have largely been discredited by The Holocaust, wherein Those Wacky Nazis acted upon their recommendations and tried to kill 40 million people and enslave a further 140 million (but "only" successfully knocked off 25 million). Today's true believers in the validity of Of the People in the real world overlap significantly with Holocaust deniers.
The Germanic peoples called themselves Diutisc ("of the people"), whence "Deutsch," "Dutch," and this trope name; but they called their neighbors "Walhaz" (which originally meant a particular Celtic tribe, then broadened in scope to mean all foreigners, then narrowed to mean Latins), whence Wallonia, Wallachia, and Wales. The Diutisc didn't think very highly of the Walhaz (Martin Luther spoke of "Deutsche Treue, welsche Tücke," "German integrity, Latin faithlessness," and in modern English "welshing" is not a compliment), but they never denied that the Walhaz were human.
"Slav" derives from slovenin, "speaker", while the Slavs called their neighbors nemetsi ("mute" or "mumblers"): thus the names for Germany in most Slavic languages. (Not in Russian, though; the Russians know Germany as Germánija, from Latin Germania, but the German people are still Nemtsy.) The Persians/Iranians and Arabs got their names for Austria, Nimsa and Nimse, from nemetsi; they got the name from the Ottoman Turks, who had conquered most of the South Slavs and picked up the Slavic name for the Hapsburgs to the north.
The classical Greeks were similar to the Slavs, giving their neighbors a name that cast aspersions on their speaking skills: Greek "barbaros" meant "babbler," and it meant Persians and Middle Easterners, whose languages sounded like babbling to the Greeks; it didn't refer to the sorts of peoples who we think of when we hear "barbarian", but highly advanced civilizations.
It's widely believed that most northern Native Americans called themselves "the only real people" and their neighbors "the evil enemies," but this isn't true. The vast majority of tribes knew themselves by a name related to their location (Wyandot, "dwellers in the peninsula", also known as Hurons) or culture (Haudenosaunee, "people building a long house" in reference to their alliance, also known as Iroquois), and their neighbors by similar, if sometimes less complimentary, terms. There were a few tribes which called themselves things like "The Principal People" (Ani Yunwiya, also known as Cherokee, "Dwellers in the Mountains"), or even "The People" ("Inuit" in Inuktitut), and there were a few so warlike that their neighbors called them "the enemy" (Comanche in Ute; their name for themselves is "Buffalo-Eaters"); but there doesn't seem to have been any case of a tribe that did both. Most tribes that gave themselves names that expressed their superiority called themselves some variation of "The Best People", like the Cherokees (or the Chinese) — not "The Only People"; and the Inuit name for themselves is best explained by how there are so desperately few people that far north. Individual Inuit villages could, and sometimes did, end up so completely cut off from the world that they were apparently the only humans left alive; in a context like that, "the people" doesn't mean "our neighbors are subhuman," it means "we don't have any neighbors at all."
If you do know of a case of a people calling themselves "The Only Real People" and their neighbors "The Evil Enemies", please vet it on the talk page before adding it here. Unless and until an example can be found and proven true, No Real Life Examples, Please!
- 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.
- One issue of The Sandman revolves around an east-European tribe who call themselves the People and are decidedly contempteous of outsiders. As the story goes on, it's revealed that they're werewolves.
- 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" when referring to "The People". But in reality, "Tsitsistas", the name of his tribe of the Cheyenne, means something more like "people like us." ("Cheyenne," for reference, is a Sioux term meaning "people who talk like foreigners." "Sioux," for reference, is an Ojibwe/Chippewa term meaning "people who talk like foreigners." And guess what "Ojibwe" means in Cree...)
- 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 The Faded Sun trilogy means "people". What do these catlike 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 of three humans in their holy records unheard of for any other species.
- 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.
- In the Johnny Maxwell Trilogy, the aliens from Only You Can Save Mankind tell Johnny that they call themselves "mankind", and that it's really them whom he's obliged to save.
- 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' The 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 of Vulcan, including "The Sundering." "United Federation of Planets" translates into Rihan (aka Romulan) as "Them, from There" while the Klingon Empire is "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's Dragaera series renders this attitude by having both Dragaerans (elves, more or less) and Easterners (humans, apparently), refer to themselves as "humans", and considering the other group not humans.
- The planet's only native intelligent species, the Serioli, tend to agree with the Easterners and call them the "Old People."
- 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 (one's 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-existence 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.
Cloud: [a horse speaking to a human Wildmage] Inside you are People.
- 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.
- The Book of the Named series has the eponymous Named cats, who can think, invent, and see themselves as distinct individuals. Cats who live outside the clan (and don't have 'the light [of intelligence] in their eyes') are referred to as the Unnamed, and treated much as humans treat animals. It's a major plot twist in the first book when the protagonist, a Named exile, realizes that some Unnamed can think and feel, and that the difference between them and her clan is not as great as she once believed.
- In the language of the Radchaai in Ancillary Justice, "Radchaai" is synonymous with "civilization". Outsiders (aside from aliens or transhumans) can become citizens and thus proper people, but only through being conquered by the Radch.
- The Skinners, from The General Series, call themselves "fraihom" meaning "real men". They acknowledge Raj as a 'half man', as a token if his badassery.
- Traders in the Circle of Magic books refer to themselves as Tsaw'ha, meaning "the people". They don't consider non-Traders as not people, at least not all of them: their word for a hated non-Trader, kaq, means "dirt under foot", but they also have a word for a non-Trader close friend, saati.
- A Discussed Trope in Citizen of the Galaxy by Robert A. Heinlein. The protagonist finds himself being shunned by the Free Trader crew of the spaceship, and an anthropologist explains that they don't regard either of them as 'people'.
"Thorby, every excessively clannish culture—and I know of none more clannish than this—every such culture has the same key word in its language...and the word is 'people' however they say it. It means themselves."
- 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. It is possible, however, for a being born into a non-Aslan body to be treated as Fteirle by living according to its tenets- it is more of a philosophy than a racial identity.
- Forgotten Realms elves use simple terms "the people" and "not people". 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". Half-elves, meanwhile, get called "Almost of the 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: In Act II Scene VI, Roxane and Cyrano discuss this trope in regard to the attitude the Gascon Cadets take if you want to be part of the regiment and are not a Gascon. Roxane asks for Cyrano's help in averting this trope with Christian. In 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 given an Embarrassing Nickname, and is subjected to the charming Initiation Ceremony (condoned by the otherwise benevolent Captain Carbon!) consisting of a dare 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 GasconsAll of your company...Cyrano: And we provokeAll 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 ITrembled for him!Cyrano: (between his teeth): Not causelessly!
- 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"). In the third game a surviving population of the ancient elf civilization the modern elves try to emulate completely reject the idea that modern elves are part of The People at all.
- 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. Though it turns out only the ancient Elvhen nobility possessed immortality. The lower/slave castes were always mortal. It's likely that modern Elves are the descendants of these slaves, meaning they never lost immortality since they never had it in the first place.
- "Children of the Stone" is notably a much more respectful term, since according to dwarfish beliefs the phrase is literally true and central to their culture. Dwarves and Elves had more than a thousand years of history together before humans moved into the main setting.
- The Qunari have a similar notion: "Outsider" in their language is "Bas". It can also mean "Thing". The name "Qunari" actually means "follower of the Qun", with the Qun being their religion; like with the elves, they take the distinction quite seriously but everyone else treats it as just a name for the race.
- The Elder Scrolls series has the Dremora, a Proud Warrior Race of lesser Daedra. Dremora refer to themselves as "the Kyn", which translates to "the people" in the Daedric language. This is because they consider themselves superior and more intelligent than the other lesser Daedra, which they see as little more than mindless beasts. And don't even get them started on mortals...
- The People in Ursula Vernon's Digger (a tribe of semi-anthropomorphic hyenas) operate this way. A little more significant than some of these examples because it determines whether or not you're fair game to be lunch.
- Variant in Schlock Mercenary. The one-eyed Uniocs are from the planet Oth, and most species are named after their planet of origin.
Kevyn: Why do we call your people Uniocs rather than Others?
Ebby: As cultural underdogs, it was all we could do to convince you to call us "one-eye" rather than "foreigner."