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The verse states (Ruth 4:1):

וּבֹעַז עָלָה הַשַּׁעַר, וַיֵּשֶׁב שָׁם, וְהִנֵּה הַגֹּאֵל עֹבֵר אֲשֶׁר דִּבֶּר-בֹּעַז, וַיֹּאמֶר סוּרָה שְׁבָה-פֹּה פְּלֹנִי אַלְמֹנִי; וַיָּסַר, וַיֵּשֵׁב
Now Boaz went up to the gate, and sat him down there; and, behold, the near kinsman of whom Boaz spoke came by; unto whom he said: 'Ho, such a one! turn aside, sit down here.' And he turned aside, and sat down.

Why is everyone so convinced that Ploni Almoni is meant to be a placeholder of sorts and not actually his name? And if it is a placeholder, then what is its root? P-L-N? What does that mean?

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In high-school I once gave my Rebbe an idea (he used to do a weekly quiz) to ask the question: "What Biblical name appears the most in the Talmud?" And of course, the answer is Ploni. –  Hacham Gabriel Mar 11 '12 at 22:08
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@HachamGabriel Really? I would have guessed it would have been something like Yehuda or Yaakov. –  Double AA Mar 11 '12 at 22:27
    
@HachamGabriel See judaism.stackexchange.com/q/4301/759 –  Double AA Sep 9 '12 at 14:02
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2 Answers

up vote 4 down vote accepted

In hebrew wiki, you can see usage of this term in Shmuel 1 21:3 as a placeholder of a place (hmm...), so it couldn't be a name of a person.

This is also supported by linguistic connection of the words Ploni and Unknown

הפרשנים הסבירו את מקור המילה "פלוני" כגזור מ"פלאי", סתום, ואת "אלמוני" מלשון "אלמון", דהיינו כאדם אלמן, או מלשון אילם, שכן אין יודעים לקרוא לו בשם.‏

However, there also brought an opinion (of Rabbi Yehoshua Ben Levi) that in Ruth this is really a name of a person.

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Why does its being a name of place preclude its being the name of a person? Especially if the person came from that place. –  Double AA Mar 11 '12 at 22:18
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If a person is called after a place the name is bit altered, like בבלי for someone from בבל. It doesn't sounds reasonable to call exactly same way to a man and a place. Especially when you have linguistic explanation of connection between Ploni and Unknown. –  jutky Mar 11 '12 at 22:25
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Malbim says "ploni" is from the root *p*l*e*, meaning "conscious control"; and "almoni" from a*l*m as in "me'almim alumim betoch hasadeh."

Thus, he is "in conscious control of the bind we're in."

(But sadly Ploni doesn't exercise that conscious control -- I really want to help you, but what people will say -- I just can't, sorry.)

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