I found the following quote of Mike Nichols, director of the hit revival of Arthur Miller’s “Death of a Salesman” on Broadway in the article titled “How Oedipus Wrecks” in March 24. New York Times:

“My father was proud once when I won a horse show in boarding school. And he was proud when I was brave when I broke my arm. And man, I’ve hauled those out innumerable times.”

As I’m not familiar with the expression, “haul something out,” I looked for the definition without success in OED and CED.

There was an entry of “hauling out” as a noun in Wikipedia, defining it as;

  • Hauling-out is the behaviour associated with pinnipeds of temporarily leaving the water between periods of foraging activity for sites on land or ice. Hauling-out is necessary in seals for mating and giving birth and non-reproductive aggregations, termed "haul-outs".

I also found the following answer to the similar question on “haul out” in www.englishforums.com/:

  • (haul out is) to take a heavy-handed approach to justice. It is a US phrase. I guess it comes from the slightly stereotyped image of the sheriff going into the saloon bar and "hauling out" ...

However, I think neither applies to Mike Nichols’ statement, “I’ve hauled those out innumerable times.” What does “haul something out” mean? Does it mean “experience / get over problems" or simply "pull something out”? Is “haul something out” a popular day-to-day phrase?

4 Answers 4


To haul something is to [roughly, and/or with considerable effort] drag it up/along. It's not often used metaphorically of memories, along the lines of OP's cited example. The englishforums claim about a "heavy-handed approach to justice" is simply mistaken - the standard idiom, British and American, is "hauled up before the court/magistrate/beak". In respect of memory retrieval, common metaphoric idioms are...

  • "to dredge [something] up" - to recall a long-forgotten memory (by implication, not repeatedly).

  • "to trot [something] out" - to [regularly] recall and recount the same memory to others.

The title of Dowd's article is a pun on the Sophoclean tragedy Oedipus Rex, and Nichols' father died when he was 11, so we can assume strong associations with the Oedipus Complex (specifically, feelings of jealously and anger towards one's father). Nichols says he often "hauls out" the only two memories he has of his father being proud of him.

The choice of verb emphasises that Nichols finds recalling those memories emotionally taxing. Dredging them up wouldn't work because the memories aren't long-forgotten. Trotting them out might well be valid here, but Nichols probably wouldn't want to use this expression because it's normally said somewhat disparagingly.

  • @Funble Finger. Though I deliberately put out the writer’s name to avoid me to be seen as her fan or Dowd-obsessed, it’s a fact that her writings supply me the material for questions. It didn’t occur to me that ‘Oedipth wreck’ is a pun with ‘Oedipus rex’ at all. By the way, is the use of ‘’haul out’ in www.englishforums’ example - “the sheriff went into the saloon bar and ‘hauled out’ (rascals)” acceptable in your definition, considering rascals just as an object, and forgetting about ‘heavy-handed approach to justice’? Mar 25, 2012 at 19:42
  • @Yoichi Oishi: It's okay to say the sheriff hauled the unruly cowboys out of the bar and threw them in jail, but that's not really connected with the "standard" context where it's is used idiomatically. They'd usually be "hauled [up] before the judge", or some other legal authority, rather than "hauled out [from the scene of the crime]". Mar 25, 2012 at 19:52

To "haul (something) out" is to retrieve it from storage, generally in order to use it or present it. As cornbread ninja says, if you consider the author's memory as a storage area, it means that he has gone over those memories frequently; or that he has related those two occasions to people often.

The particular passage also carries the subtext that the reason he has to 'haul them out' so often is because those are two of the only times his father was proud of him.

  • 1
    I don't think haul has any inherent implication of "retrieval from storage". Even when it's coupled with out, the sense of "from storage" only arises because of context. You can, for example, haul furniture out of a room in order to decorate it. The inherent connotations of the word relate only to the difficulty of manhandling whatever is being hauled. Mar 25, 2012 at 14:13
  • You're probably right, I let cornbread ninja's idea color my own answer.
    – Hellion
    Mar 26, 2012 at 0:09
  • Yeah, well obviously Nichols is using haul metaphorically there, but although you could say he's hauling things out of his memory, it might make more sense to say he's pulling them out of his heart. It's more emotional regurgitation than information retrieval. Mar 26, 2012 at 0:18

I believe he is referring to reliving those memories. You could say that his memory bank is a closet in his brain, and he is hauling out the boxes containing those memories in order to remember and relive those times in his life.

I wouldn't call it a popular day-to-day phrase. I think the majority of people would simply refer to it as reliving a memory (or rehashing if not a pleasant one).


Another retrieval idiom, like trot out, is wheel out:

Produce something that is unimpressive because it has been frequently seen or heard before


I've heard haul out used to mean something similar; the thing being produced as an example is treasured by the presenter, as it is among few examples that the presenter possesses, and the conclusion that it has been produced to support is seen as improbable or at least problematic because only the same small set of examples are ever produced to support it.

The context here is that Mike Nichols is having imaginary discussions with his father about his father's pride in his accomplishments generally,

I’ve had conversations with him about what I accomplished and what I didn’t. I’ve had to be him and me, him proud of me.

but only has two experiences of his father expressing pride in him to support the scenario.

(The answer at https://english.stackexchange.com/a/192461/14615 reminded me of wheel out.)

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