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What is an idiomatic way of expressing "little people", not as in people literally of small stature but people who are in reality important while still being "officially" unimportant?-- most notably seen in the popular quote:

I want to thank all the little people who made this possible...

Unfortunately, on e.g. dict.cc, all the translations for "little people" refer to people who are actually small (e.g. das kleine Volk).

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    Heinzelmännchen are helpful little people. I've heard this word in acknowledgements some times – Marzipanherz Apr 5 '16 at 19:11
  • Isn't "little people" a bit rude? I imagine a very proud person saying that, in a disregarding way (as if he can't be bothered to list out their names). – Numeri Apr 5 '16 at 22:22
  • @Numeri: Yes, this term isn't exactly the most flattering one. – errantlinguist Apr 6 '16 at 0:43
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    Fußvolk means the base [ant] members of an organisation/institution in contrast to the top members/élite. – Pollitzer Apr 6 '16 at 7:22
  • @userunknown: Thanks for the heads-up regarding the typo... but, no, I'd never interpret little people have small feet to mean "few people have small feet". – errantlinguist Apr 6 '16 at 11:35
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Personally, I’ve never encountered little people being used that way in English, but I’m not a native speaker and since there are some similar phrases in German I’ve no doubt it can refer to unknown or invisible helpers instead of midgets, children or dwarves/hobbits.

There is a fixed expression, der kleine Mann auf der Straße ‘the little man on the street’, which refers to Joe Sixpack (aka. Otto Normalverbraucher) and has no common female counterpart, but a related plural form, die kleinen Leute ‘the small/little people’.

Maybe one of the following suggestions fits better:

  • Menschen hinter den Kulissen or … dem Vorhang, … der Bühne ‘people behind the curtains’
  • Leute im Hintergrund ‘people in the background’
  • viele fleißige Hände ‘many busy hands’ or, with alliteration, helfende Hände ‘helping hands’
  • Helfer ohne Namen / namenlose Helfer ‘nameless helpers’
  • unbekannte Gesichter ‘unknown faces’
  • hilfreiche Geister ‘helpful spirits/ghosts’
  • gute Seele ‘good soul/spirit’ – usual a single low-level but beloved employee, a mother or father figure
  • unzählige Beteiligte ‘countless parties involved’
  • wahre Helden ‘real heroes’
  • (Zahn-)Räder die die Maschine(rie) am Laufen halten ‘(gear) wheels that keep the machine running’
  • alle, die einen/ihren Beitrag geleistet haben ‘everyone who contributed’

The following can be rather accusing or derogatory:

  • Mitläufer ‘tag-along, hanger-on’
  • Kollaborateure ‘collaborator’
  • Helfer und Helfershelfer ‘helpers and their helpers’
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    I think that Mitläufer does not fit the context. And i never heard Kollaborateure in a context other than "People who (opportunistically) helped the Nazi forces that at the time ahd occupied the country". – Burki Apr 7 '16 at 11:56
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    @Burki I had added the final three terms, below the warning, because I anticipated that some non-native speakers might find them elsewhere and think they fit the theme. – Crissov Apr 8 '16 at 15:27

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