Leave in the Lurch

Have you ever been left in the lurch? If so, it probably didn’t feel good. 

Samantha Enslen, Writing for
2-minute read

leave in the lurch meaning

Maybe your coworker resigned in the middle of a big project, leaving you to pick up the pieces. Or maybe your science fair partner was a slacker, leaving you to finish the entire display. Yup. You got left in the lurch. 

But what is a lurch? And can you leave someone there?

Let’s start at the beginning.

The word lurch comes from a 16th-century French game called lourche. The specifics of the game have been lost, but we think it was a dice game, something like backgammon. In lourche, if you fell far behind the other players, you were said to incur a lurch

The term was picked up and used in cribbage, which was born in the same era as lourche. Cribbage is a card game, but players use a wooden board lined with holes to keep track of their scores. As players gain points, they move their pegs around the board, trying to be the first person to reach 61 points.

If one person gets 61 before another player gets 31, guess what? The loser is lurched, and the winner scores two games instead of one. Boom.

This sense of being left behind and badly defeated can be felt in the expression to leave in the lurch. It means to be abandoned in a difficult situation, without support or succor.  

And listeners, that’s just not nice.  

So, there’s your tidbit for today. Be kind to one another. Support your friends, family, and neighbors—instead of leaving them in the lurch.

Samantha Enslen runs Dragonfly Editorial. You can find her at dragonflyeditorial.com or @DragonflyEdit.

Image courtesy of Shutterstock.


Ammer, Christine. Leave in the lurch. American Heritage Dictionary of Idioms, 2nd ed. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2013. 

Cresswell, Julia. The Cat's Pyjamas: The Penguin Book of Clichés. Chapter 4, Sports and Games. Penguin UK, 2007. 

Dent, Susie. Leave in the lurch. Brewer’s Dictionary of Phrase and Fable, 19th ed. Chambers Harrap, 2012.

Jarvie, Gordon. Bloomsbury Dictionary of Idioms. Leave someone in the lurch. A & C Black Publishers, 2009. 

Oxford English Dictionary, online edition. Oxford University Press. Lurch. Cribbage. (subscription required, accessed August 15, 2016).

About the Author

Samantha Enslen, Writing for Grammar Girl

Samantha Enslen is an award-winning writer who has worked in publishing for more than 20 years. She runs Dragonfly Editorial, an agency that provides copywriting, editing, and design for scientific, medical, technical, and corporate materials. Sam is the vice president of ACES, The Society for Editing, and is the managing editor of Tracking Changes, ACES' quarterly journal.