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Why do we say someone who is treated badly is hung out to dry?

February 14th, 2009

Why do we say someone who is treated badly is “hung out to dry”?

We’ve all come across the term “hung out to dry.”  We see it in newspaper headlines, news reports, and even from coworkers who can’t help but talk about it during their lunch break.  But what does it really mean when we say “hung out to dry?”  And why is it that this phrase is used to describe someone who is treated badly?

Many scandals in politics have come and gone, and there were many instances where important government officials were left hung out to dry.  Especially during the investigations that resulted to U.S. President Richard Nixon’s impeachment, many underlings were left hung out to dry.  The hanger or the people who left them out to hang hoped that these underlings would take the fall or take the heat off from the superiors.

The phrase “hung out to dry” certainly has a negative connotation.  A certain element of dishonor is present on the part of the people doing the hanging, and this is usually done in the middle of a crisis, where someone is sacrificed to take the fall in order to save the others.

Although everything initially starts positive, with a lot of people backing everyone up, a negative behavior of self-preservation kicks in when crisis sets in.  The people who used to be so supportive are now pulling away, and someone, usually the weak and innocent, is left to handle the situation by themselves.

When one says “hung out to dry”, it means setting someone up to take adversity or punishment when in fact he may be innocent or guilty of only a few mistakes.  To take the word “hung” literally, that person is left hanging with no clear or resolved question or status, and with no clear indication of when he will be taken down.  This leaves the person in an exposed position, oftentimes making him a sacrificial goat.

Someone treated badly, or someone who is abandoned to handle the consequences alone can then be called as “hung out to dry.”

So the next time you come across the statement “hung out to dry”, you’ll have a clear idea on why it’s a term used to describe someone who is treated badly.  Although this piece of information might not be rocket science, it’s definitely something to think about.  This allows you to have a clearer understanding and grasp of what it means to be left hanging out to dry the next time you see it in the news or even in your workplace.

  1. Charles
    February 14th, 2009 at 21:17 | #1

    This happens mostly in politics.When a person depends on other people he is prone to this type of treatment.

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