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I saw an article titled “Obama Campaign Says Mitt Romney Is Either a Crook or a Liar” in July 13 Time magazine. The article reports that Mitt Romney’s campaign manager, Matt Rhoades has demanded President Obama to apologize for his senior campaign adviser, Stephaney Cutter’s calling Romney a potential crook. It read;

“Matt Rhoades said: President Obama’s campaign hit a new low today when one of its senior advisers made a reckless and unsubstantiated charge to reporters about Mitt Romney that was so over the top that it calls into question the integrity of their entire campaign. President Obama ought to apologize for the out-of-control behavior of his staff, which demeans the office he holds.”

I am interested in the specific usage of “hit a new low” in the above quote. My understanding of the idiom, “hit a new low (high)” is it regards “numerical” record such as the prices of stocks, oil, sales, and poll numbers. But here it seems to be suggesting “the lowest possible debasing demeanors” of Obama campaign that went over the top.

Is it metaphoric expression? Can “hit a new low (high)” be used in the context other than number and numerical records?

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Yes. It can mean reaching a low point in someone's life or in his or her behavior. –  JLG Jul 17 '12 at 2:17

2 Answers 2

Oishi-san: Yes, "hit a new low" can be used in non-numerical contexts.

Please note that this is a doubly strong insult. If you tell someone that something they did was low, that is one level of insult. But to say it is a "new low" implies that it breaks a record for lowness, exceeding your normally low expectations for that person. Moreover, the new record may be personal (pertaining only to that individual), or it may suggest that a new low for the entire human race has been achieved.

Confusingly, this insult can be used in a playful, almost affectionate manner, as in a gentle barb one friend might use to prod another:

Beer before breakfast, Ron? That's a new low, even for you. [Both parties laugh.]

Much depends on context and the relationship of the people involved. But in cases where it is not spoken playfully between friends, it is extremely strong and best avoided unless your aim is to entirely vilify someone — and so it is no accident that one finds it often in brutal political discourse.

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But here it seems to be suggesting “the lowest possible debasing demeanors...”

Yes; you nailed it. Both high and low can be used in precisely those contexts. In such usages, high and low can refer to fairness, judgement, morale, liberty, or just about any other abstract concept, such as in these examples:

Joey's childhood exuberance rose to a new high after his parents bought him a dog.

When the dictator ordered a crackdown on underground churches, that marked a new low for religious freedom.

After the football team won its fourth consecutive come-from-behind-match, the confidence of the players reached an all-time high.

With the release of the critically panned movie Rocky XI, Stallone's unfortunate ability to overuse his characters fell to a new low.

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