High And Dry – Meaning, Origin


The phrase “high and dry” means that a person feels left behind or abandoned, perhaps because they were expecting help and didn’t get any; or because they were expecting someone to show up, but that person never came.

Example: Jake was meeting his friend at the café; they had plans to discuss ideas on a project they were working on. However, Jake was left high and dry because his friend never showed up.

1. Hang out to dry
2. Leave someone hanging

A beached boat that has been left high and dry.

The Origin Of “High And Dry”

How old is this idiom? The expression “high and dry” 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

  • I made a funny joke to my group of friends to lighten the mood, but none of them laughed! They left me high and dry on that one, or maybe the joke wasn’t funny.

Similar Example:

  • Stacy did not get an invitation to her friend’s wedding, so she felt like she was hung out to dry. However, the very next day, the invitation came in the mail.

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