Earlier this week, I told someone, I would never intentionally leave you out to dry. I realize, just now, that the more common idiom is hang you out to dry.

Is the first one also acceptable? is it common? or is it preferable (and more correct) to use the latter? Beneath is a good definition of the idiom.

hang someone out to dry

Leave someone in a difficult or vulnerable situation.

If the variation leave out to dry is indeed acceptable, then I would be interested in any instances of this variation from respected sources.

  • Leave is too passive (i.e. inactive) for this expression. The expression needs to convey ill intent. Hang you out to try accomplishes this. // If you find some instances of "leave out to dry," it could be imprecise speaking, or it could be confusion with "leave hanging." – aparente001 Mar 27 '17 at 8:46
  • @aparente001 I don't think that hang out to dry necessarily conveys ill-intent. I think it could simply convey selfishness. Admittedly, this is a form of ill intent but it certainly is not spite or malice. – ktm5124 Mar 27 '17 at 8:58
  • @aparente001 For example, a man who ditches his co-worker in the middle of a project to go on a weekend vacation with his girlfriend might be hanging his co-worker out to dry. Selfish, yes. Malicious? No. – ktm5124 Mar 27 '17 at 8:59
  • I think you might be amalgamating with "leaving someone high and dry." I'm not saying that in the right context you would not be understood if you said "leave someone out to dry," but it would bother certain listeners (the nitpicky type, like me). – aparente001 Mar 27 '17 at 17:15
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    @Drew - I wouldn't close a question that is asking if a variant of an idiom is correct. – aparente001 Mar 27 '17 at 18:43

I think you were mixing and matching two different idioms

Leave you hanging is one idiom that now appears far more used than "hang out to dry" ... if ngram works that is.


Cambridge dictionary

leave someone hanging:

to keep someone waiting for your decision or answer:

I was left hanging, waiting for the college to tell me whether I got a scholarship or not.

Leaving someone hanging evokes more clinging to a liferope or a ledge to me...but perhaps it shared the same laundry root ? : )


It doesn't seem 'leave someone out to dry' is an acceptable variant of 'hang someone out to dry'. While the Google Ngram Viewer does not find any n-grams for the former version, it shows that the latter version of the idiom is in standard use. enter image description here

A discussion about 'leave someone out to dry' can be seen on the WordReference.com

  • Perhaps it's vernacular but not written down? That would explain the WordReference discussion and the Ngram results. – ktm5124 Mar 27 '17 at 6:09
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    You get slightly better examples in the past tense (though still with no noun or pronoun) – Henry Mar 27 '17 at 8:06

My understanding is that if you leave someone "hanging out to dry" - you leave them to take all the blame, when it may not be their fault. eg A manager asks an employee to do something, there is no record of the manager asking the employee to do this. The thing goes wrong and is a disaster. In the investigation, the manager denies knowing anything about it, and all the blame falls on the employee. We say "the employee has been hung out to dry". It is often the same when a plane crashes - the manufacturer blames the dead pilot - the pilot is "hung out to dry". Looking at many web articles on this, as stated above by ktm5124, there is confusion between this and "being left high and dry"

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