ENGLISCH/846: Questions to Mrs. Gobbledygook (163) High and dry (SB)


163. What is meant by "high and dry"?

Dear Mrs Gobbledygook

... when our Au pair Linda spoke to a friend on the phone the other night, I couldn't help overhearing a few words of complaint about her job and that we, my husband and I, would leave her "high and dry"... Now, my question is, what does the girl mean by this. I'm terribly worried because she continuously is loosing weight and if her comment does mean, we are not feeding her enough, I would like to know ...


Jutta B. (Lugano, Switzerland)


Dear Mrs B.

I 'm awfully sorry but I can't say what problem it is your au pair girl Linda has, but of course I can answer your question about the meaning of this particular pair of words: "high and dry".

The words themselves are simple and the meaning of the expression is easy to remember if you think of the sea and high and low tides. Imagine the following picture: If something is floating on the water near the shore, then when the tide goes in at high tide, the thing that's floating may land on the beach, on the sand or the stones on the sea shore. It may be a bunch of sea weeds, plants that grow in the sea, that can get stranded, it can get left on the beach when the tide goes out and the water goes down. So our piece of sea weed is left "high" up on the beach and it quickly becomes "dry". But it's left "high and dry" - it is not where it wants to be, which is safely in the water.

So there we can see the idiomatic meaning of "high and dry". We very often use it with the verb "leave" and in particular with the past participle of "leave" which is of course "left". And that gives us the expression: "...left high and dry ...".

I will give you another example of its usage in everyday's English. Try to imagine a man (B) and a woman (A), who are discussing a holiday that the man went on. He joined a group of people, that he hadn't met before on a walking holiday:

A: How was your holiday? B: Well, the walking part was wonderful: fantastic views of the mountains, good fresh air. A: But? B: But the problem was the social life. A: Ohhh! B: The holiday was advertised as a walking holiday. So I didn't take much spending money with me. A: So? B: All the other people took much more money and went out every night to the disco in the village or went by taxi into the town... And I was left high and dry in the youth hostel.

He was left somewhere, where he didn't want to be. Another example:

Sally went to a party with some friends but she didn't enjoy it very much.

Sally says: "The problem was they all knew a lot of people there. So they were all laughing and talking. But I am a bid shy, really. And I was left "high and dry" with the glass in one hand and stroking their dog with the other. The dog didn't much like the party either."

So Sally felt, that she was "left high and dry". But at least she had the dog for company. So that is how the expression high and dry is used in English conversation. It is commonly used and quite acceptable. And I suppose your English au pair lacks a bit of company and affection.


Mrs Gobbledygook

4 May 2009