Hung Out To Dry

Meaning:

To be abandoned by someone; left behind.

Example: Andrew bought a new house and now he needed help moving all of his stuff to the new place. His friend volunteered and said he would come over later with his truck to help with the move. However, Andrew was left hung out to dry because his friend never showed up.

In other words, Andrew felt like his friend forgot about him, leaving him behind to do all the work by himself.

Synonyms / Related Sayings:
Left high and dry
Left in the lurch
Clothes hung out to air dry on a line.

The Origin Of ‘Hung Out To Dry’

The origin of this phrase probably comes from a certain method some people use to dry their clothes after they’ve been washed—they hang them up outside to dry.

If you own an electric washer and dryer, then washing your clothes is a chore that’s pretty easy to do. On the other hand, folding your clothes afterwards, yeah that’s still annoying. Anyways, not everyone can afford these convenient clothes cleaning machines. They can be quite expensive, after all.

So what do some people do instead after having washed their clothes? Well, they pull out a hair dryer and… I’m kidding. Jokes aside, they hang their wet clothes up on a line outside and then they wait. All the drying work is handled by the sun and the air, a strong combination that will rid those clothes of moisture in no time. Although this method can be quite effective at drying clothes, it doesn’t work as well in the colder season. Another benefit of drying clothes in this manner is that since no electricity is being used in the process, this in turn saves a person some money on their monthly electricity bill. Neat!

So that’s where this saying likely comes from—people hanging their wet clothes up to dry. Now, let’s talk about when this expression started to take on its ‘to be abandoned’ meaning. The earliest I could find it in print where it’s likened to ‘abandonment’ is the year 1980. This example comes from a newspaper called Filmnews, 1980. There’s a part from it that reads:

“They would be rather explicit, because they were quite angry because it was like being abandoned like being hung out to dry.”


Example Sentences

  1. Wilson’s car broke down on the side of the road. He tried calling his brother for assistance, but he was left hung out to dry because his brother was too busy to answer his phone.

Note: Sometimes, an idiom’s origin is unknown. So when that happens, a theory might be listed as to how a phrase originated. Or, if not that, a quote will be generally be included on the idiom’s page. These quotes are to give you an idea for at least how far back in history a phrase goes. So, for example, if a phrase is written in a newspaper from the year 1750, then you know it must be at least that old.
 
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