High And Dry – Meaning, Origin


To be left behind; abandoned.

Example: Jake was waiting patiently for his friend at the local cinema. They were meeting there so they could watch a movie together; that was the plan, anyways. However, Jake was left high and dry because his friend never showed up.

In other words, he felt like his friend abandoned him.

Synonyms / Related Sayings:
Hang out to dry
Left in the lurch
A beached boat that has been left high and dry.

Origin Of ‘High And Dry’

The earliest appearance in print that I could find of this phrase is towards the end of the 18th century. The following example comes from The London Times newspaper, 1796, and it (the expression) is written 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 (and today as well) the phrase was used when referring to boats that became stranded on dry land due to the rise and fall of sea levels; these can fluctuate. For instance, if a boat is left near shore during high tide, a time when the water levels are at their highest in certain places, then the boat may be at risk of being grounded later on. Why? Because throughout the day, the water levels can decrease. So while at the beginning of the day the boat is floating comfortably in high waters, in just a few hours, the sea level can change in the area, lowering down to the point where the boat becomes grounded on dry land.

Thus, the boat is left ‘high and dry,’ as the saying goes. Indeed, it’s as if the boat was abandoned by the water, being left behind. So while it appears this phrase was initially used in connection to stranded boats that had become grounded or beached, later on it began to be applied to other situations where people felt abandoned.

Anyways, as mentioned earlier, the year 1796 was pretty much the earliest appearance that I could find of this expression in print, and so that would make it a little over 220 years old.

Example Sentences

  1. While we were on a road trip, our car ran out of gas in the middle of nowhere. We used our cellphones to call for roadside assistance, but they couldn’t help us because we were unable to explain where we were. It started to feel like we were left high and dry, but thankfully, it wasn’t long until someone drove by and helped us out.

Note: The origins for most phrases and sayings cannot be said with a certainty. What’s (sometimes) provided where this is the case, are theories that may be plausible to how a phrase originated.
In addition, quotes that contain a particular phrase may be taken from old newspapers, poems, or books that were written centuries ago, but this by no means confirms that the phrase originates from said newspapers, poems, or books. In all likelihood, if an expression is being used in a newspaper, it’s probably already a well known saying and is thus even older.

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