who's who

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From Who's Who, the British publication of biographies for the upper class, first published in 1849


who's who (countable and uncountable, plural who's whos)

  1. (countable, sometimes capitalized) A publication containing biographies of well-known or important people.
    • 1914, The Everyman Encyclopædia:
      Nearly every country has now a Who's Who, which gives a brief outline of the life and work of living men who have distinguished themselves in various ways.
    • 2001, James H. Sweetland, Fundamental Reference Sources, Chicago and London: American Library Association, →ISBN, page 243:
      But when a living person's profession or vocation is known, it is well to consult first a biographical dictionary in that field, for it often contains more names than the more general who's whos.
  2. (countable) A list of notable, famous, or upper-class people.
    • 1954 Nov. 22, "Education: Something for Cleo," Time:
      In the growing who's who of Negro educators, the name of Cleo W. Blackburn, 45, ranks high.
    • 2002 April 6, "THE 1992 CAMPAIGN: Delegates; How New York Voters Determine Who Fills Seats at Democratic Convention" [1], New York Times:
      Mr. Clinton's candidates, a veritable who's who of New York Democrats, include Carol Bellamy, the former City Council president; Sandra Feldman, head of the United Federation of Teachers in New York City, and Representative Gary L. Ackerman of Queens.
    • 2010 Feb. 11, "Dealer to the who's who of Australian art"[2], Sydney Morning Herald:
      With glittering names from a who's who of Australian art on her walls she would laugh: "Not just glittering names, glittering examples of their work, too."
  3. (uncountable) Collectively, the elite class.
  4. (countable) A person appearing in a Who's Who publication.
    • 1942, Milwaukee Journal:
      Sixty-one From Wisconsin Make Debut as Who's Whos [headline]:
  5. (countable) A celebrity or famous person, someone likely to be in such a publication.
  6. (uncountable, idiomatic) The identities of specific people, understood in terms of such distinguishing characteristics as their backgrounds, prominence, achievements, jobs, etc., as a basis for comparing them and especially as a basis for ranking them within a social group.
    • 1814, Maria Edgeworth, Patronage, ch. 23:
      Mrs. Falconer cannot well avoid asking you to some of her entertainments, and it will be pleasant to you to know who's who beforehand.
    • 1902, Henry James, The Wings of the Dove, ch. 20:
      "Milly, it's true," she said, to be exact, "has no natural sense of social values, doesn't in the least understand our differences or know who's who or what's what."
    • 1902, W. W. Jacobs, At Sunwich Port, ch. 5:
      "I'll learn 'im to insult a respectable British tradesman. I'll show him who's who."
    • 1937 Sep. 27, "Fiction: Recent Books," Time:
      Readers will conjure up many a conjecture over who's who in this literary gallery.


See also[edit]