English Language & Usage Stack Exchange is a question and answer site for linguists, etymologists, and serious English language enthusiasts. Join them; it only takes a minute:

Sign up
Here's how it works:
  1. Anybody can ask a question
  2. Anybody can answer
  3. The best answers are voted up and rise to the top

Context (New York Times),

The episode has been a sobering lesson in how even an agency that carries some 350,000 passengers over 104 miles of track every workday can be brought low by a seemingly ragtag group of activists who identify themselves by pseudonyms like Lamaline_5mg.

In Oxford Advanced Learner's Dictionary, I found this entry,

be brought low (old-fashioned) to lose your wealth or your high position in society

But I'm wondering if we can just simply interpret this idiom literally? Please see these two entries in Merriam-Webster,

bring: (4) : to cause to come into a particular state or condition.

low: 11: unfavorable, disparaging

share|improve this question
up vote 3 down vote accepted

Brought low indicates that once it was high up, and something caused it to lose its high position. In this case, the power of a prestigious cell phone communications provider was compromised by a "seemingly ragtag group of activists", which is a "sobering lesson".

So X was brought low by Y means though X previously had much power/ability, Y compromised/destroyed it to the point that X has very little ability.

share|improve this answer

It comes from bring down, as you might "bring down" a government - so somebody who has lost power or authority has been "brought down" (in BE) or "brought-low" (AE)

share|improve this answer

I've read it (in fiction, mostly) to mean that an individual has been embarrassed or shamed, or that something has happened to bring about a low mood. I can easily see how this would be an extension of the above provided definition.

share|improve this answer
Welcome, @Kettle! We usually look for answers that have supporting material. Do you have a reference for that meaning that you can edit into your answer? – Matt Gutting Aug 8 '14 at 16:20

Your Answer


By posting your answer, you agree to the privacy policy and terms of service.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.