Hung Out to Dry – Meaning, Origin and Usage

Are you looking for a way to tell someone that they let you down and abandoned you when you needed them most? If so, you could use the expression “hung out to dry” to describe their behavior. This post unpacks the meaning and origin of this phrase.


The expression “hung out to dry” means that you left someone in their moment of need, right when they needed you most.

It refers to abandoning someone in their moment of need because you either want to see them fail or you are afraid of joining them in the repercussions associated with the outcome of an event.

Typically, the person hanging the other person out to dry is doing so to intentionally hurt the other person while protecting themselves from harm. It’s suitable for use when describing malicious behavior. However, it can also suit a more lighthearted context where it serves as something of hyperbole.

Example Usage

“I was relying on John to back me up on that with the manager, but he just stayed quiet. Man, he really hung me out to dry with that one.”

“Oh sure, you can rely on Kim. She really hung me out to dry the last time I asked for her help.”

“You really hung me out to dry on that one. I was hoping you would help me out, not leave me in the lurch.”

“We really left that guy hung out to dry on that. I feel guilty, and we should have backed him up.”

“That kid was hung out to dry by his friends. None of them stepped in to save him.”

“She really left me hung out to dry last night. I was ready to go to the mattresses for her, but she showed me she doesn’t really care.”


The origin of the expression “hung out to dry” comes from the 1960s. Language experts are unsure of the exact origin of the phrase. However, many believe it comes from hanging clothes out to dry. People would leave their clothes hanging on the washing line to dry in the sun and often forget about them.

As a result, the saying became attributed to leaving something behind or a task you forgot about doing that you promised others you would do. The earliest use of the phrase in print comes from 1980. The newspaper “Filmnews” published an article where the saying appears as follows.

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

Phrases Similar to Hung out to Dry

  • Leave in the lurch.
  • Walk out on.
  • Leave high and dry.
  • Kiss goodbye.
  • Leave me hanging.

Phrases Opposite to Hung out to Dry

  • You got my back.
  • With you all the way.
  • In it together.

What is the Correct Saying?

  • Hung out to dry.

Ways People May Say Hung out to Dry Incorrectly

The phrase "hung out to dry" is grammatically incorrect. It should read "hang" or "hanged." As in, you really hang me out to dry, or will you hang me out to dry?

However, these grammatically correct versions are not commonly used in language. "Hung out to dry" is a colloquial saying, so, like many idioms, it doesn't have to be grammatically correct to make sense.

Acceptable Ways to Phrase Hung out to Dry

You can use the expression "hung out to dry" in situations where you're describing someone abandoning you in your time of need. The phrase suits social and professional use. You could use it at work when a colleague doesn't back you on something when they promised they would, leaving you exposed to the risk by yourself.

You could use it at home when telling your partner they don't back you up when you're trying to discipline the kids. The phrase suits many situations and varying degrees of severity. You could use it on occasions with severe or comical outcomes.

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