Highbrow and lowbrow

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Highbrow and lowbrow are compound words that are idioms. We will examine the meaning of the common idioms highbrow and lowbrow, where they came from, and some examples of their idiomatic usage in sentences.

Highbrow means academic, scholarly, high class; for some it may mean pretentious. The word highbrow is a closed compound word, which is a word composed of two words joined together without a space that have a different meaning than the original words. The word highbrow was coined during the 1870s and is related to phrenology. Phrenology is the study of the shape of the head, which supposedly could measure a person’s intelligence. People with brows that were higher than average were thought to be highly intelligent. The study of phrenology has been thoroughly debunked.

Lowbrow means common, uneducated, for the masses, not requiring any intelligence or discrimination. The word lowbrow is also a closed compound word that was coined during the 1870s in reference to phrenology. People who had brows that were lower than average were thought to be stupid and inferior.


For something a little more highbrow, there’s the Browser, a smart British aggregator that draws on sources across the English-speaking world. (Los Angeles Times)

“If you want fine-dining options to wow your highbrow guests, you’ve picked up the wrong book,” she writes. (Guam Daily Post)

Her lover Aston (Trigorin), the cynically successful lowbrow writer, succumbing to the easy seduction of the innocent and dazzled Lily, is at least briefly brought to a realisation of love before (off-stage) finding its demands too taxing. (Independent)

Once a lowbrow quaff best known for the worm in its bottle, mezcal has become “this generation’s single-malt Scotch,” Robert Simonson writes in his compact and entertaining new volume, “Mezcal + Tequila Cocktails: Mixed Drinks for the Golden Age of Agave.” (Atlanta Journal Constitution)

Enjoyed reading about this idiom? Check out some others we covered:

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