In various English consulates throughout the world in the 1930s, expatriate Britons who caused trouble due to illegal or unethical behavior were known as "bad hats." The term "bad actors" also comes to mind - and is used in American English as well. But I came across the term "low roaders" in reference to unsavory American citizens abroad. Was this the equivalent of "bad actors" or did it infer something else?

I don't recall exactly where I read this expression, but it was in print. Either a quote from an American consular official complaining about individuals who caused him grief, or in an academic treatise discussing expatriates and sojourning Americans abroad. It was possibly in Eileen Scully's Bargaining with the State from Abroad.

  • Can you edit your question to say where you came across the term? If it was in something published online, adding a hyperlink to the source would be ideal. For further guidance, see How to Ask and take the brief but informative EL&U Tour :-) Commented Apr 7, 2022 at 6:46
  • I assume it means someone who takes the low road but don't see "low roader" in dictionaries.
    – Stuart F
    Commented Apr 7, 2022 at 10:55

1 Answer 1


Low roader can be formed in several contexts by taking the generic phrase low road, that is, someone who takes the difficult course or the ethically troubled course (cf. Merriam-Webster, high road) and applying the generative suffix -er, a person who is associated with phrase (e.g. old-timer, early-riser, bucket-kicker;see M-W)).

For instance, here is the phrase used in two different recent contexts. First, unsavory debate practices:

The low-roader can dump so much mud and blow so much smoke that the high-roader has no chance. What's the answer? Should you forget logic and evidence and fight just as dirty as your opponent? No, what you do is to refuse to play the low-roader's game. (Parsons, Keith. Rational Episodes: Logic for the intermittently Reasonable. 2018)

Second, where low road writer is used to describe someone who does not reinvest gains in writing efficiency back into writing, low roader is also used:

The low road writer is likely to spend freed-up channel capacity fine-tuning the [writing] operation (adding small details, changing occasional sentences and the like). Alternatively the low roader's attention might be spent on some activity entirely unconnected with writing, so that the effect of automisation is to decrease the amount of effort devoted to the writing task. (Expertise in Second Language Learning and Teaching, 2005)

The usage isn't standardized or in common dictionaries. Instead, it depends very much on what the user considers to be low in context.

While I can't track down a 1930s quote that corresponds directly to what you saw, the expressions high road and low road would've been out there, so it's possible you encountered someone adapting low road. See for instance this poem in the Kusko Times (1 December 1934):

The high road, the low road,

The path of joy or pain

Given the generic nature of low road, it is unlikely that low roader was a set term used to refer to "unsavory Americans abroad." More likely, that was a specific context in which low roader was formed as a nonce term.

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