What Does Hung Out to Dry Mean?

Hung Out to Dry Meaning

Definition: To abandon someone who needs help.

A variant of this phrase is left out to dry, as in, you left me out to dry.

Origin of Hung Out to Dry

This expression originated around the 1960s. The exact origin is unclear. However, most sources believe it might have come from hanging clothes on a line to dry.

This was around the time automatic washers and dryers were becoming popular with the public. Those without an automatic dryer would hang their clothes on a line outside to allow them to air dry.

It is possible that the idiom developed because clothes left to air dry were abandoned to the elements. They might get damaged by wind or dirt. People left out to dry also were abandoned to their fates.

Examples of Hung Out to Dry

hang out to dry Here is an example of two family members using the expression while at home.

Grandmother: Hey! What are you doing? Are you copying your friend’s math homework?

Granddaughter: Yes, but it’s only because I don’t understand the material at all. If I don’t copy it, I’ll fail the assignment.

Grandmother: You’ll never learn if you don’t try! I’m taking this and throwing it out.

Granddaughter: No, you can’t! Don’t hang me out to dry like this! I promise I’ll do it on my own next time. Just let me copy it this once!

Grandmother: Nope. No cheating allowed. And I’m not hanging you out to dry. I’ll help you understand the math questions.

left out to dry The second dialogue shows a daughter explaining why she has to go to school even though she is sick.

Father: You have a bad fever! You can’t go to school today. I know you worry about your grades, but your health is more important.

Daughter: I’m not just worried about my grades. I always sit with my friend Esther at lunch. If I don’t come, she’ll have to sit all alone. That’s really embarrassing in high school! People will make fun of her. I don’t want to hang her out to dry like that.

More Examples

This excerpt is about a healthcare plan that didn’t cover older people.

  • “People who were young and healthy certainly benefited,” says Garrett Martin, executive director of the Maine Center for Economic Policy. “But small businesses that had older employees or were in rural parts of the state really got hung out to dry.” –LA Times

This excerpt is about a hockey team that didn’t support their goalie.

  • We left our goalie hung out to dry and that’s unacceptable. If you do it right, you end up getting more scoring chances than if you’re cheating for them. It’s frustrating.” –LA Times


The phrase hang someone out to dry is to leave them without assistance when they desperately need it.