High And Dry – Meaning, Origin


If someone was left high and dry, it means they were left behind or abandoned.

Example: Jake had plans to meet his friend at the gym. They were going to start exercising together and motivate each other with the goal of getting into shape. However, Jake felt that he was left high and dry because his friend never showed up.
Synonyms / Related Sayings:
1. Hang out to dry
2. Leave someone hanging
3. Left in the lurch
A beached boat that has been left high and dry.

Origin Of ‘High And Dry’

How old is this phrase? It is at least 220 years old because it appears it in print near the end of the 18th century. For example, this expression appears in The London Times newspaper, 1796, under a feature titled ‘Ship News’:

“The Russian frigate Arthipelago, yesterday got aground below the Nore at high water, which, when the tide had ebbed, left her nearly high and dry.”

Back then, this phrase referred to boats or ships that became stranded on dry land. How did this happen? It was due to fluctuating sea levels. You see, during high tide, the sea’s water levels are at their highest in certain places. So a boat that is floating near shore during this time should be fine. However, when low tide comes, the water levels can decrease, which results in the boat getting lower and lower until its stranded on dry land. When this happens, the boat is left “high and dry,” as the saying goes. It’s like the water abandoned the boat, leaving it behind.

While this phrase is still used in relation to grounded boats, it is also applied to people or other things that have been left behind.

Example Sentences

  • My friends asked me to make a funny joke, so I did and none of them laughed! They left me high and dry on that one.

Note: The origins of many phrases and sayings cannot be said with a certainty. But hey, at least you should still be able to get an idea on how old it is. How? Because typically on Know Your Phrase, included on an expression’s page is the oldest known quote (well, that I was able to find) of it appearing in print. Neat!

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