What Does Left in the Lurch Mean?

Left in the Lurch Meaning

Definition: Abandoned during a difficult time, without help.

Origin of Left in the Lurch

Most people are familiar with the more common use of lurch: to move suddenly in an uncontrolled manner. For example, someone might lurch if they were walking on a boat and didn’t see a large wave coming to rock the boat.

Left in the lurch has nothing to do with this meaning. However, there is a second meaning: a state of discomfort.

This meaning originated from a French gambling game called Lourche, which was similar to backgammon. It was popular in the 1500s. However, it no longer exists, as the rules did not survive to modern day.

This game had a component where a player’s position could be so far from winning that they had no chance. This is the idea behind the modern expression left in the lurch. People began using the expression figuratively by the 1600s.

An early figurative use of the phrase comes from Richard Tarton’s Jests in 1611:

  • Ile leave him in the lurch and shift for my selves.

Examples of Left in the Lurch

left you in the lurch In the dialogue below, two friends are discussing what to do to help their friend who is in the hospital.

Tina: Did you hear that Steve is in the hospital?

Keanu: Yes, it’s awful! I wish I could go visit him, but I have to leave for a business trip soon.

Tina: I can’t believe you would be so heartless! He could die, and you know that you and I are his only two friends here. He has no one to take care of his dog, or any of his other affairs. You wouldn’t leave him in the lurch would you?

Keanu: I guess you’re right. I’ll cancel the trip.

leave in the lurch In this example, one friend is asking another for help over the phone.

Jonah: Tatiana! You’ve got to help me. My car broke down, and I can’t get to my interview this afternoon unless you can drive me.

Tatiana: Oh, come on! I’m so busy. I’m sorry, but I just can’t do it.

Jonah: I wouldn’t ask you if it weren’t an emergency.

Tatiana: How far away is the interview?

Jonah: Just a couple hours drive away.

Tatiana: No way!

Jonah: Please don’t leave me in the lurch!

Tatiana: Fine. Borrow my car. But be careful with it!

More Examples

This excerpt is about a town that is the site of a nuclear waste dump. Because of this, the city is suffering and no one is helping it.

  • If the site of the Zion plant could be cleared and redeveloped, as Zion officials expected it would be, the city could put the land to new uses, boosting its economy and generating tax revenue. Instead, the city — founded in 1901 with a layout based on the British flag — has been left in the lurch, and its downtown has nearly as many empty storefronts as it has functioning businesses. –Chicago Sun Times

The second example is about schools that cannot serve their students because there is no money in the budget for them.

  • But the university — and all other state universities — have been left in the lurch since Jan. 1 when a partial budget expired. –Chicago Sun Times

Summary

The phrase left in the lurch means deserted without any support.

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