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Meaning of “High and Dry” (I’ve Never Been Lower Or Wetter)

Video Lesson

Meaning of High & Dry (and I've Never Been Lower or Wetter)

Meaning of “High and Dry”

“High and dry” means:

  • unsupported
  • abandoned
  • without help

Usually we attach the verb “to leave” to the expression, for example:

“Matthew didn’t pick me up at the airport, like he promised.
He left me high and dry, and frantically searching for another way home.

“Our startup company found an investor to help get us started. We even bought tiny USB drives with our company logo on it! Then, all of a sudden, the investor disappeared, leaving our whole company high and dry.

“Comcast was supposed to install my cable Internet today between 2:00pm and 4:00pm. But they didn’t show up. I called them to complain, but they didn’t seem to care that they’d left me high and dry.”

The expression is widely used today, in both business and casual conversations. You can say it to a friend, but you could also say it in an official business email.

Origin of “High & Dry”

Like a lot of modern English expressions that use metaphors and analogies, the origins are from hundreds of years ago. However, many modern English speakers uses these expressions, without knowing their origin.

Actually, I’ve always been a little bit confused about this expression, because it’s supposed to be used in situations where you’re helpless. But, “high and dry” sounds like a good thing to me, at least when you’re thinking about something like an oncoming tsunami.  However, this is not the origin of this expression.


High and Dry in the case of a tsunami
Image: My first idea of the meaning of “High and Dry” (WRONG)

“High and Dry” is about Boats and Ocean Tides

In fact, the saying “high & dry” is actually about boats that are tied up on the shore of the ocean, in places where the water level changes because of the tides.

Image: The ocean water level changes because of the tides of the Earth

Although “high and dry” refers to boats being stuck on the bottom of the ocean during low tide, we say “High and dry”.  You might wonder why we don’t say “Low and dry”.

Well, it’s because the boat touches the bottom of the ocean in this circumstance. The most shallow part of the ocean used to be called “high ground”. This is a little bit confusing. But this expression started perhaps in the 1700’s, so it’s too late for us to change it now. So, all we can do is complain, and learn. 😆

So, if your boat is on high ground during low tide, it will be dry. In that case, the boat can no longer go anywhere. That means that the boat is stuck, and helpless, and abandoned. The owner of the boat didn’t move the boat when the tides changed, and now the boat cannot do what it’s supposed to do.

Image: A Ship at Low Tide
Photo via Flickr. ‘Tide Bay of Fundy Cape Split’, by InAweofGod’sCreation



“High and dry” refers to boats being stuck on the bottom of the ocean, when the tide is low. 🚢


Low & Wet, and “I’ve Never Been Lower or Wetter”

Now that we know the meaning of “high and dry”, we need to talk about the expression, “low and wet”. When Joey says, “I don’t want to leave you high and dry”, Chandler replies, “Hey, I’ve never been lower or wetter“.

Please note that this is not a real English expression. That is why the audience laughs when Chandler says it. Chandler has taken a common English expression and flipped it to its opposite. But the opposites of English expressions usually don’t make sense.

Friends loves to play with new and incorrect idioms, in order to make the audience laugh. Consider our video talking about “No Snap in His Turtle” and our post about “I Just Grabbed a Spoon“, neither of which is a real idiom!


You Can’t Just Say the Opposite of an Expression

A lot of natural English expressions and English idioms use figurative language to make comparisons to something outside of the current situation (for example, “It’s raining cats and dogs” means that it’s raining a lot).

When we use figurative language, it’s often not possible to say the opposite of the expression.


✅ The boss at work is the big cheese. [Correct!]
🛑 The intern at work is the little cheese. [Incorrect]

✅ It’s high time we get married. [Correct!]
🛑 It’s low time we go to the movies. [Incorrect]

✅ I’ve been cooped up in the house all weekend. [Correct!]
🛑 I spent the whole weekend uncooped. It was amazing! [Incorrect]

✅ It happened in the blink of an eye. [Correct!]
🛑 This car trip isn’t happening in the blink of an eye. [Incorrect]
🛑 This car trip is taking a million blinks of an eye. [Incorrect]

✅ The music was so loud. It was on full blast! [Correct]
🛑 Could you turn the music down to medium blast? [Incorrect]

✅ Belle always has her heads in the clouds! [Correct]
🛑 Gaston has his head on the ground. [Incorrect]

✅ Anita isn’t at work today because she’s under the weather! [Correct]
🛑 My fever disappeared overnight. I’m finally over the weather. [Incorrect]

My advice would be to assume that the opposite of an expression will not work. Sometimes it’s OK, but usually it’s not.

If you’re a brave person and you don’t get embarrassed easily, then you can just try an opposite expression in when you’re having an English conversation, to see if it’s valid. If you say the opposite of an English expression, and it’s not valid, then the English speaker you’re talking with might laugh.

Remember, they’re not laughing at you. They’re laughing at how silly the English language is. Very few of us live near the ocean, and are boat captains. But somehow we all know the meaning of high and dry. That’s kind of interesting, isn’t it? 😉


جواب سريع:

يعتمد المصطلح الإنجليزي ، “مرتفع وجاف” ، على القوارب المتأثرة بالمد والجزر في المحيط. تعني “مهجور”.
“أقل أو رطب” ليس تعبيرًا شائعًا. تشاندلر يقول نكتة.

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