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left hung out to dry

Posted by Smokey Stover on July 06, 2005

In Reply to: left hung out to dry posted by Smokey Stover on July 06, 2005

: : Where does the phrase "being left hung out to dry" or "left hanging out to dry" come from?

: I can't give you first use or origin,but the meaning is clear. If you are left hanging (the most innocuous case), it means that your status or your question is left unresolved, you're possibly in a state of suspense. If you are left hung out to dry, mama has put you on the clothesline with no indication when, if ever, you are going to be taken down. You are in an exposed position, "blowing in the wind," often in the role of sacrificial goat. Thus it is often used in regard to someone left carrying the can or holding the bag. During the investigations which culminated in the impeachment charge against Richard Nixon (U.S. President), several underlings were serially left hanging out to dry or blowing in the wind. It was hoped, in a few cases, that they would take the heat off, or take the fall, be the patsy, for the iniquities of their superiors. SS

One of the most enduring lines of the Nixon investigations was provided by John Ehrlichman, one of Nixon's top political advises. He suggested that the confirmation hearings for Patrick Gray as head of the FBI be delayed, and that Gray be left "twisting slowly, slowly in the wind," in order to distract the press from more damaging things. The image suggests a hanging, but most of the unfortunate victims left "hanging in the wind" or "blowing in the wind" or "twisting slowly in the wind," at least during and after Watergate, were not actually hanged. You can say that they were hung out to dry, however. SS

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