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I'm not a native speaker and was wondering what exactly does "lowest common denominator" mean? I was always under the impression that it referred to something base that is shared by the largest amount of people, like sexual urges, envy, greed etc. So if somebody said: "the show is targeted at the lowest common denominator" I took it to mean that it caters to these primitive universal tendencies. But lately I have seen it used as an insult or basically a verbose way to say that someone is stupid. I never thought that the phrase was meant to refer to actual people and tend to see it as a misuse, but found out that according to some online dictionaries, this usage is correct. So how is it?

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    I'm pretty sure a similar question was asked recently. – NVZ Jun 12 '16 at 23:25
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  • It seems there's no definitive answer to my question there though. – user2637372 Jun 12 '16 at 23:35
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    This is a clear dupe. If the other question did not answer your question, you need to figure out how to get it answered. (Of course this is difficult when you have no reputation.) Already this question is just replowing the ground of the other question. – Hot Licks Jun 13 '16 at 1:05
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Google gives the second sense of lowest common denominator as

"the level of the least discriminating audience or consumer group."

This sense refers to people.

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  • Seems like it refers to "level", not people. Anyway, from this question: english.stackexchange.com/questions/329087/… "I found the following definition of 'common de'nominator' in Oxford Advanced Learners English Dictionary; 2) an idea, attitude or experience that is shared by all the members of group - see also Lowest common denominator." which seems to be more in accordance with my definition. – user2637372 Jun 12 '16 at 23:38
  • @user2637372- But it's the people who exhibit that level of discrimination. Attacking an idea, attitude or experience held or shared by a group is essentially attacking that group. Like a metonym. – Jim Jun 12 '16 at 23:49
  • And if I take into consideration the example of usage in your linked definition: "they were accused of pandering to the lowest common denominator of public taste" it seems like it can't possibly refer to people. The most general meaning seems to be: "something basic that is widely shared." – user2637372 Jun 12 '16 at 23:51
  • @Jim Not necessarily, you might be attacking the practice of exploiting the vulnerability, not the vulnerability itself, especially if it's universal.The distinction between the attribute and the bearer is important. – user2637372 Jun 12 '16 at 23:53
  • @Jim To provide an example: the fact that using sex to sell things is seen as something shady or at least cheap, doesn't mean that sexual urges or people who have them are inherently problematic. Lowest common denominator isn't always something bad, but targeting it often is, – user2637372 Jun 13 '16 at 0:03

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