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She was a pretty little thing, but I fear the libido of the young men she encountered in here would be at a low ebb.

I do understand what "libido" means, as well as "ebb". The dictionary definition of "ebb" tells me that it usually refers to the flow of the tide and has the connotations of a tide backing away or the flow of anything else for that matter falling/decreasing in intensity. In noun form, it's typically used this way: "on the ebb" which means to "be on the fall".

But the thing is the phrase "at a low ebb" sounds to me rather like "at a low level" or "at a low flow". "Ebb" is not supposed to mean so—where "ebb" already means a dwindling amount of something, how can it be labelled low? And I haven't seen at used before "ebb" anywhere before.

So:

What exactly does "at a low ebb" mean and in which sense is it used?

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The phrase at a low ebb is an idiomatic expression (with idioms, you have to take all the words in the expression into account):

in a bad or weak state

So, it says that the libido of the young men that she encountered in there was very weak (at a low point, like the receding tide). In other words, it was not as strong as she would have liked it to be.

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    Oh, I didn't realise it was an idiom. Thanks a bunch for helping me out! Commented Apr 5, 2018 at 7:51
  • @SohaFarhinPine It's not exactly a common idiom, but the meaning is straightforward enough when you consider what the ocean is like at low tide, which is to say at low-energy.
    – Neil
    Commented Apr 5, 2018 at 8:26
  • @Neil To me, it's not that intuitive. How can you be "at a low fall"? Commented Apr 5, 2018 at 8:55
  • @SohaFarhinPine The expression here is "at a low ebb" not "on the ebb", ebb meaning tide. Also the author is referring to the libido of the young men, and not the men themselves.
    – Neil
    Commented Apr 5, 2018 at 9:05
  • I wouldn’t really classify this as an idiom – at least, not in the sense of, say, “Raining cats and dogs.”
    – J.R.
    Commented Apr 5, 2018 at 11:24

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