Hang Out To Dry – Definition & Examples

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Danielle McLeod

Danielle McLeod is a highly qualified secondary English Language Arts Instructor who brings a diverse educational background to her classroom. With degrees in science, English, and literacy, she has worked to create cross-curricular materials to bridge learning gaps and help students focus on effective writing and speech techniques. Currently working as a dual credit technical writing instructor at a Career and Technical Education Center, her curriculum development surrounds student focus on effective communication for future career choices.

Idioms are commonly used to create a figurative explanation for an event or situation. They are often lighthearted in nature or even amusing and help your audience better understand what you are trying to express.

To hang something “out to dry” is one such example that is used to illustrate passing blame or abandoning someone for a problem.

It is a fairly recent idiom used in the English Language, and we explore its origins and use below.

What Does Hang Out to Dry Mean?

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Hang out to dry means to abandon someone, to desert someone who is in trouble, or to leave him behind. Often, the expression hang out to dry is used to mean to allow someone else to take all the blame for a situation that does not turn out well. The phrase hang out to dry is sometimes rendered as left out to dry.

The expression came into popularity in the middle of the twentieth century and is presumed to be an allusion to clothes hanging on a line to dry. The phrase carries a connotation of helplessness, like clothes pinned to a line and at the mercy of the sunshine and wind. Related phrases are hangs out to dry, hung out to dry, and hanging out to dry.

Origin of “Hang Out to Dry”

Hang Out To Dry Ngram
Usage trend of the idiom “Hang out to dry” in English over the years.

Although the popularity of the idiom being used in an analogous manner didn’t gain much traction in writing until the mid-20th century, the term was in use during the 19th century.

Laundry had long been hung to dry after washing, and the increase in population within large cities during this time forced people to hang their laundry on clotheslines strung between buildings.

The image of clothes hanging row upon row most likely influenced the first uses of this term. It had to be impossible to ignore the laundry “flapping in the breeze” (a related phrase) across alleyways and courtyards. And, if accidentally forgotten about, chances were pollution and poor weather would require a recleaning of the garments.

When a person is “hung out to dry,” leaving them behind doesn’t usually create a happy scenario for them.

Hang Out to Dry Used in Sentences

  • I can’t believe you hung me out to dry and took the blame when you denied the allegations.
  • The campaign manager was hung out to dry over the poorly scripted speech, even though his employer approved the message in advance.
  • After becoming the target of political attacks, the former negotiator for the firm was hung out to dry in an attempt to shift attention from the courtroom loss.
  • We will never allow one of our own to be hung out to dry by the media.
  • Unfortunately, working middle-class families are generally hung out to dry when politicians start applying new tax laws.

Let’s Review

To hang something (or someone) out to dry is not to be taken literally when used in writing and speech. It is an idiom that is used to analogously explain the abandonment of a person or predicament, usually in an unfair context.