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

3 Answers 3


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.


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)


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.

  • 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? Aug 8, 2014 at 16:20

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