A metaphorical meaning of "gold standard" is something that is really good to be compared with. For example, Wiktionary says

  1. (idiomatic) A test or measure of comparison that is considered ultimate or ideal.

    The OED is the gold standard for English dictionaries. Everyone wants to see how their version measures up to that ideal.

Is there an example of a benchmark of awfulness, such that if something is worse than item X, then it is very bad?

An example of how this would be used is

Recently, Kazakhstan has become the _____ for backwardness, with news articles saying that Australia's education system or internet speed is worse than Kazakstan's.

Neither Oxford Dictionaries, the gold standard in dictionaries, nor Wiktionary mentions any antonyms.

  • @Downvoter is there additional research I should have done?
    – Golden Cuy
    Commented Jan 21, 2018 at 4:32
  • Are you looking for a phrase that suggests that the thing in question really is the worst of its type, or a phrase that suggests that people are measuring badness against it? Those aren't necessarily the same thing.
    – 1006a
    Commented Jan 24, 2018 at 17:06
  • Avoid answering questions in comments. Post comments here only to ask for more information or suggest improvements. Other types of comment can be posted in the main chatroom or a chatroom created for the purpose.
    – MetaEd
    Commented Jan 24, 2018 at 20:33
  • @AlexP Do not give answers in comments.
    – MetaEd
    Commented Jan 29, 2018 at 16:29
  • 1
    Downvoter was probably a fan of Borat the movie, I upvoted to balance it out. Commented Jan 29, 2018 at 19:21

11 Answers 11


Lead Standard

Recently the term lead standard has been used to contrast with gold standard. For example, the authors of a 2015 Queensland Times article, “Integration, assimilation should be gold standard”, write:

High concentrations of people in one suburb all maintaining a different language, culture and some religious practices is a problem. Add high unemployment and welfare dependence and this is the "lead standard" that is causing a lot of problems in Europe.

In this syndicated 2017 article from Raycom News Network, “Lee Zurik Investigation: Gold standard for ethics, lead standard for enforcement”, then-State Treasurer John Kennedy is quoted saying:

Kennedy says, "One of the things I took away from your series is, you can argue about whether Louisiana has a gold standard of ethics laws. But no reasonable person could argue that our standard of enforcement is anything more than, I don't know, lead or tin."

In this 2013 article on “Screening for Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) in Primary Care” from the US Department of Veterans Affairs we read:

Non-independent comparisons of signs and symptoms with a standard of uncertain validity (which may even “incorporate” the sign or symptom result in its definition) among “grab” samples of patients plus, perhaps, normals. In addition to the biases of Level IV, these studies often include the sign or symptom result as part of a “lead standard,” resulting in a self-fulfilling prophesy. The results extravagantly over-estimate accuracy.

Other recent examples of lead standard in this sense can be found here and there, but the term is still far more commonly seen in discussions of safety standards for lead-exposure limits. You’re therefore probably safest using it only in contexts that also mention gold standard, like in this statistics quiz.

  • 2
    This is the best answer, imho. I didn't know about the usage of "lead" standard, and I can't help but wonder why they didn't call it, "brass" standard, instead? Or "fool's gold" standard? Or maybe even the "tin" standard. I find "lead" a little ungainly (until I caught on, I was pronouncing it "leed", which had me a little confused, at first).
    – Bread
    Commented Jan 21, 2018 at 21:39
  • 7
    @Bread Think about the medieval alchemists’ forlorn quest to transmute lead into gold. In that regard the two elements were considered in some sense opposites.
    – tchrist
    Commented Jan 22, 2018 at 2:05
  • 7
    One possible issue that may cause confusion with this phrase is that lead meaning the metal is a homonym of lead, meaning to go in front or the top or best example. If read incorrectly, it could lend a positive connotation where a negative one is desired. +1 anyway for being the parallel opposite as the asker requested. Commented Jan 22, 2018 at 5:21
  • 4
    This confirms what I suspected: that "gold standard" no longer suggests currency, William Jennings Bryant, or even Ron Paul, but that "gold" is now more understood as an adjective.
    – KarlG
    Commented Jan 22, 2018 at 10:07
  • Interest only: When acceptance testing custom made small solar panels in China we established a test cell which all product should be superior to. We termed this our "lead standard". We coined the name ourselves as an obvious term given its function. The lead standard cell was used to calibrate a number of lead sub-standards which were used to set the testing machine at the start of each production shift. This compensated for light level variations in the test lamps, mounting jig variations etc. Commented Jan 23, 2018 at 11:41

If the reason for your question is the apparent oxymoron in:

Kazakhstan has become the gold standard for backwardness

then you could opt for an alternative word to express "perfect example" for which I propose epitome. From Oxford Dictionaries:

A person or thing that is a perfect example of a particular quality or type.

This seems imply the required extremeness of the characteristic, without implying a positive or negative tone to it. Hence you could say:

Kazakhstan has become the epitome of backwardness

If you want to reinforce the negative aspects of the characteristic being described, you could instead opt for nadir (likewise from Oxford Dictionaries):

The lowest or most unsuccessful point in a situation


Kazakhstan has become the nadir of backwardness


I think perhaps poster child or poster boy could work well. It is often used to to denote something that could be considered to be representative of unfavorable characteristics.

The term poster child (sometimes poster boy or poster girl) originally referred to a child afflicted by some disease or deformity whose picture is used on posters or other media as part of a campaign to raise money or enlist volunteers for a cause or organization. Such campaigns may be part of an annual effort or event, and may include the name and age of a specific child along with other personally identifiable attributes.[1][2]

The definition of "poster child" has since been expanded to a person of any age whose attributes or behaviour are emblematic of a known cause, movement, circumstance or ideal. Under this usage, the person in question is labeled as an embodiment or archetype. This signifies that the very identity of the subject is synonymous with the associated ideal; or otherwise representative of its most favorable or least favorable aspects.


That said;

Benchmark - a standard or point of reference against which things may be compared.

Is a generic term and could be applied either positively or negatively - depending on what the benchmark is in. Really any word that sets the thing in question as a prime example would work.

As an aside...

"Recently, Kazakhstan has become the _____ for backwardness"

...is pretty offensive whatever the blank!

  • 2
    +1 for benchmark since the OP gave a sentence template using [Kazakhstandard] as a plimsoll line.. Commented Jan 22, 2018 at 2:39
  • 1
    I'd also like to offer up Threshold of Disappointment from Howard Tayler, author of Schlock Mercenary. Commented Jan 22, 2018 at 3:02
  • 1
    Argh. I think your "poster child" answer is pretty meh. I think your "benchmark" answer is perfect. But you've both suggestions in one answer , which means I can't vote on them separately. Please try and put separate suggestions in separate answers (though I know I'm guilty of doing exactly what you've done!).
    – AndyT
    Commented Jan 24, 2018 at 11:33

The gold standard only describes the standard, not that which it measures, so there's no reason it must apply only to the true, good, and beautiful. Thus the gold standard of:

dictatorship (Stalin)

bad movies (Wiseau's The Room)

evil (Hitler or Genghis Khan)

genocide (Hitler again)

kitsch (Michael Jackson)

awfulness (Footloose the musical)

Now the usage to refer to Hitler et al. may set a new gold standard for bad taste — which got surprisingly few hits — but a gold standard for bad/failed art disturbs far less. In the context you suggest, a new gold standard for backwardness, i.e. the ultimate in backwardness, is perfectly reasonable.

Meanwhile, back at the ranch...

The origin of the metaphorical use of gold standard was, of course, the actual gold standard by which a nation's currency was backed by a certain amount of the precious metal. The gold standard was not completely abandoned in the United States until 1971 under Nixon.

This, of course, did not stop anyone from using gold standard in a metaphorical sense, merely that the historical background has been jettisoned so that gold is no longer a noun (the actual metal) used attributively, but understood as an adjective that could be replaced by other substances, such as tchrist's lead standard, or a diamond or platinum standard, the latter two presumably exceeding a gold standard in value and excellence.

  • 1
    A controversial opinion, but one that’s backed up by research.
    – Golden Cuy
    Commented Jan 21, 2018 at 9:26
  • 1
    Again, the gold standard of kitsch is not the singer-songwriter, Michael Singer, but Koon's "tasteful" golden/porcelain statue of the artist. MJ was never really kitsch. MJ and Bubbles well worth seeing for its truly garish quality
    – Mari-Lou A
    Commented Jan 21, 2018 at 11:57
  • 2
    “Koons’s Michael Jackson and Bubbles is a porcelain-and-gold mirage of the entertainer who has not only become the gold standard of kitsch but also transformed himself into a living hallucination.“ “The entertainer who has...become the gold standard of kitsch” is clearly Michael Jackson.
    – KarlG
    Commented Jan 21, 2018 at 12:03
  • 1
    Would that be purposeful genocide (Hitler), uncaring genocide (Stalin towards Ukrainians) or gross stupidity genocide (Mao in the Great Leap Forward)? Because Stalin killed or allowed to starve 23M people, and 78M people died in Mao's Great Leap Forward.
    – RonJohn
    Commented Jan 22, 2018 at 1:35
  • I'm just demonstrating language use. I personally wouldn't use the expression because I consider it in bad taste, as I mentioned at the end of my answer.
    – KarlG
    Commented Jan 22, 2018 at 3:20

Recently, Kazakhstan has become the new low for backwardness, with news articles saying that Australia's education system or internet speed is worse than Kazakstan's.

The idiom, to hit a new low, is extremely derogatory, it suggests that someone or something has broken the record for appallingness.

For example, we thought Bob's racism was shameful in the past but today he hit a new low.


6. countable noun [usually singular] If something reaches a low of a particular amount or degree, that is the smallest it has ever been.
Collins Dictionary

@professor_feather in the comments below suggested another expression, which I think is highly appropriate, the low bar.

set a low bar

To establish an expected, required, or desired (but ultimately constrictive) standard of quality Farlex Dictionary of Idioms

Here's a very recent example of usage

"Frankly, at this point, the bar is so low that if he doesn't swear or doesn't malign a minority group, that's considered a huge success," Malmgren told CNBC.
(Source: CNBC 2 Feb, 2018)

If one searches the Google news database, practically all the references to lead standard refer to the level of lead present in the water system, fuel, air, soil, paint, and even electronic devices.

For instance:

  • The lead standard needs updating, and the EPA knows that. In the future, we probably will see a higher standard."

  • Snyder calls the current federal lead standard "dumb and dangerous." He says he doesn't want Michigan to wait until the federal rule is reviewed, which is not scheduled to happen until next year.

  • 28 Louisiana water systems would not meet proposed lead standard

  • In 2008, the lead standard, or acceptable about of lead particulate in the air, changed from 1.5 micrograms per cubic meter to 0.15 micrograms per cubic meter - a 90 percent reduction.


Recently, Kazakhstan has become the go to example for backwardness, with news articles saying that Australia's education system or internet speed is worse than Kazakhstan's.

The Oxford English Dictionary defines a go to as "a ... thing that may be relied on or is regularly sought out in a particular situation". In your use case, Kazakhstan is a go to as an example for demonstrating backwardness.

In the same vein:

Recently, Kazakhstan has become the de facto standard for backwardness, with news articles saying that Australia's education system or internet speed is worse than Kazakstan's.

Wikipedia defines a de facto standard as "a custom or convention that has achieved a dominant position by public acceptance or market forces". By this definition, a de facto standard is similar to a gold standard, because it is dominant above other standards, but unlike a gold standard, it doesn't necessarily describe the "best" standard.

  • 1
    your answer needs citations to be creditable.. This may well be a good answer if you support it with sources.
    – J. Taylor
    Commented Jan 21, 2018 at 18:04
  • A de facto standard hardly needs justification here, surely? Commented Jan 22, 2018 at 2:51
  • @Vaelus yes, you have justified your answer well.. It does seem though that others voted for answers before your edit.,
    – J. Taylor
    Commented Jan 23, 2018 at 10:21

I proffer brown standard.

Note that this is by no means a fixed-phrase, but is a play on the saying gold standard. It is not appropriate for formal discourse.

  • I've heard "brown standard" used before; definitely in informal discussion, as you can guess what "brown" refers to in terms of the standard it's setting. This was actually the first suggestion I thought of when I read the question!
    – Doktor J
    Commented Jan 22, 2018 at 17:22

How about "bottom of the barrel", or more commonly "scrape the bottom of the barrel"? It implies the very worst example of something, acceptable (if at all) only because there are no other options available, or no way to sink lower.

Derived from the actual historical practice of scraping the last bits of food out of a storage barrel (see last source).

From The Free Dictionary:

The cheapest, worst, or lowest quality. Used to describe an item in a range of comparable products.

I know we need to save money, but this bottom-of-the-barrel computer barely even works.

Our washing machine broke down after just two months of use, but that's what we get for buying the bottom of the barrel.

From Dictionary.com:

verb phrase: To use one's last and worst resources; be forced to desperate measures : He scraped the bottom of the barrel when he proposed that topic for his paper (1942+)

From Wiktionary:

They must really have been scraping the bottom of the barrel if they couldn't find a better design than that.

Derived from the historical practice in the early United States of storing food in barrels; when food supplies ran low, only what was on the very bottom of the barrel remained, and had to be removed by scraping.


I think touchstone captures a similar meaning to "gold standard" without the positive implication.

It works particularly well in your example, as it indicates that other people are using Kazakstan as a reference point, without sounding like it is you who is making the assertion about Kazkhstan's backwardness.

Recently, Kazakhstan has become a touchstone for backwardness ...


Plumb new depths

If you say that something plumbs new depths, you mean that it is worse than all the things of its kind that have existed before, even though some of them have been very bad. Collins

Literally it means you've managed to find some ocean which is deeper than all the ocean you measured before.


US house prices plumb new depths. House prices in 11 of the biggest US cities have fallen to their lowest point since the bust of 2006-7 – in Las Vegas, the fall is even worse. Guardian

When Allardyce suggested -- without a trace of irony or self-awareness after the 4-0 defeat at Tottenham in the previous match -- that Everton may need to be more boring and less adventurous, the statement was both bewildering and seemingly impossible. But this seventh successive game without a win proved Allardyce true to his word as boredom and a lack of adventure did in fact plumb new depths. ESPN

Gang members show no sympathy for victims. Indeed, MS-13 members proudly repeat their motto, “Kill, rape and control.” Many gangs plumb new depths of depravity in an effort to live up to that motto. NYT

Your example might be phrased as:

Recently, Kazakhstan has plumbed new depths in backwardness, with news articles saying that Australia's education system or internet speed is worse than Kazakstan's.

  • The meaning here is sound, but I don't think it works well in the example sentence. If Australia's speed is worse, then it is Australia that is plumbing new depths, whereas the depths Kazakhstan plumbed are now superseded.
    – IMSoP
    Commented Jan 24, 2018 at 18:54

I think you could use the expression black sheep to refer to the worst member for having done something bad:

a member of a family or group regarded as not so respectable or successful as the rest.

(Collins Dictionary)

“Recently, Kazakhstan has become the black sheep for backwardness, with news articles saying that Australia's education system or internet speed is worse than Kazakstan's.”

  • 'WED is the black sheep among dictionaries' doesn't sound too natural. Commented Jan 21, 2018 at 9:43
  • @EdwinAshworth - yes, don’t use it referring to dictionaries.
    – user 66974
    Commented Jan 21, 2018 at 10:51
  • 1
    @EdwinAshworth Do you think it's the preposition? I'd probably suggest using 'of' instead of among if using black sheep, patterned after phrases like "black sheep of the family."
    – Tonepoet
    Commented Jan 21, 2018 at 11:59
  • @Tonepoet I think the metaphor is normally reserved for people. The Kazakstan example obviously involves people at a distance, as would examples referring to organisations. 'Deadly nightshade is the black sheep of the Solanaceae family' sounds at best quirky. 'The OED' (of course, the term is inappropriate anyway here) is probably too distant, third hand (though 'WED staff are the black sheep among dictionary compilers' probably works). Commented Jan 21, 2018 at 13:00
  • 1
    Edwin may just have a point about it being primarily restricted to people, but rather than debating about it with him in the comments, I think it would be more productive for you to prove your point using evidence, if you can. Implementing illustrative quotations, especially from respected sources, that serve as evidence to your claims may serve as an example of how it is used effectively in other contexts, or using Google nGrams to show that usage of it in an extended sense is not insignificant can only help to make your answer more convincing to future voters.
    – Tonepoet
    Commented Jan 21, 2018 at 19:29

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