High and Dry: Definition, Meaning, and Origin

Last Updated on
December 12, 2023

The expression "high and dry" refers to a situation where someone or something is left in a difficult or helpless position without assistance or support. Originally used to describe ships that were beached and out of the water, the phrase has evolved to describe a person who has been abandoned or left without the resources or help they need. It's akin to saying, "Left out in the cold," emphasizing vulnerability or neglect in various contexts, from personal relationships to business dealings.

In Short:

"High and dry" refers to someone or something being left in a difficult situation without help or support.

What Does "High and Dry" Mean?

When you hear someone use the phrase "high and dry," it generally means that someone or something has been abandoned or left without assistance. This idiom can be applied in various contexts, capturing feelings of helplessness or being stranded.

  • It often refers to being abandoned in a time of need.
  • It Can suggest feeling helpless or stuck in a situation.
  • It is sometimes used to describe physical abandonment, like a boat stranded on land.

While its primary meaning revolves around abandonment, its use can range from light-hearted to more serious situations.

Where Does "High and Dry" Come From?

This phrase originally referred to ships that were beached on land and couldn't return to water, especially during low tide. A ship that is "high and dry" is out of its element and unable to function, much like a fish out of water. This expression, over time, took on a broader meaning and began to be applied to situations beyond seafaring contexts.

Historical Example

"The libellant's witnesses state that the Ocean Spray was high and dry at low tide." - an excerpt from Reports of Cases Decided in the Circuit and District Courts of the United States for the Ninth Circuit (1855- 1879).

10 Examples of "High and Dry" in Sentences

Let's explore how this idiom is used in different contexts:

  • The company's poor financial decisions not only put us in the red but also left many employees high and dry.
  • She promised to help with the project but left me high and dry when it came time to present.
  • Though circumstances may seem tough, rest assured that I will never leave you high and dry.
  • The sudden cancellation of the event left all the attendees high and dry.
  • After the dispute, he found himself high and dry with no friends to turn to.
  • I felt high and dry after getting axed at work, but your reassurances put me at ease.
  • The investor pulled out of the deal, leaving us high and dry without funding.
  • She promised to help with the project but left me high and dry at the last minute.
  • You might think about leaving her high and dry, but not on my watch. I'll make sure she gets the support she needs.
  • The tour guide led us to the museum and then left us high and dry without any explanations.

Examples of "High and Dry" in Pop Culture

This idiom has made appearances in various media, demonstrating its versatility and relevance.

  • Radiohead has a song titled "High and Dry" on their 1995 album "The Bends."
  • In 2002, Jamie Cullum released the song High & Dry on his Pointless Nostalgic album.
  • In 2014, Sarah Skilton released a young adult fiction book, High and Dry.

Synonyms: Other/Different Ways to Say "High and Dry"

Several phrases can convey similar sentiments:

10 Frequently Asked Questions About "High and Dry":

  • What's the origin of "high and dry"?

The term has a nautical origin, referring to ships stranded on land, especially during low tide.

  • Is it always used in negative contexts?

Mostly, yes. It generally conveys feelings of abandonment or helplessness.

  • Can it be used in positive situations?

While rare, it can be used humorously or light-heartedly in certain situations.

  • How is the idiom used in literature?

Writers often use it to express a character's feelings of abandonment or betrayal.

  • Are there any songs titled "High and Dry"?

Yes, for instance, Radiohead has a song by that name.

  • Is it a modern expression?

No, it's been used in English for several centuries.

Yes, it's appropriate for both formal and informal contexts.

  • Does it always refer to physical abandonment?

No, it can also convey emotional or financial abandonment or betrayal.

  • Are there any movies that use this idiom?

Yes, movies like "Catch Me If You Can" have made reference to it.

  • Are there any famous quotes with this idiom?

While there are many instances in literature and media, no universally recognized quotes come to mind.

Final Thoughts About "High and Dry"

"High and dry" is a versatile expression that vividly captures the essence of abandonment or neglect.  When you describe a boat stranded on a beach, a friend who fails to show up in a time of need, or a moment when you lack essential resources, this phrase perfectly captures that feeling of vulnerability.

  • It stems from a nautical background.
  • It primarily conveys feelings of abandonment.
  • It finds its way into pop culture, literature, and everyday conversation.

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