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Re: Highbrow, lowbrow, middlebrow

Posted by Bob on May 21, 2003

In Reply to: Re: Highbrow, lowbrow, middlebrow posted by ESC on May 20, 2003

: : Hi! Can you please explain the origin and meaning of the word "lowbrow?" Thank you, Sax

: HIGHBROW/LOWBROW - "Dr. Franz Joseph Gall (1758-1828), founder of the 'science' of phrenology, gave support to the old folk notion that people with big foreheads have more brains." The theory, later discredited, "led to the expression 'highbrow' for an intellectual, which is first recorded in 1875.New York Sun reporter Will Irvin popularized 'highbrow,' and its opposite 'lowbrow' in 1902, basing his creation on the wrongful notion that people with high foreheads have bigger brains and are more intelligent and intellectual than those with low foreheads. At first the term was complimentary, but 'highbrow' came to be at best a neutral word .Life magazine coined the term 'middlebrow' in the mid-1940s." From "Encyclopedia of Word and Phrase Origins" by Robert Hendrickson (Facts on File, New York, 1997).

Calling some activity or entertainment or cultural event by one of these three terms is very chancy these days. There is no general agreement or clear dividing line to
clarify where (for example) middlebrow begins and ends. Unless you are willing to stand your ground against verbal attack, it's best to avoid the classifications. (But hey, being reckless, I'll give you a quick self-test: was your favorite film of the past year Adaptation, My Big Fat Greek Wedding, or Jackass? They are high, middle, low.)