Posted by: Dutch | February 24, 2010

Left in the lurch


Abandoned in a difficult position without help.


This has nothing to do with lurching in the sense of staggering unsteadily.

There are suggestions that lurch is a noun originating from lych – the Old English word for corpse, which gives the name to the covered lych-gates that adjoin many English churches. The theory goes that jilted brides would be ‘left in the lych (or lurch)’ when the errant bridegroom failed to appear. The lych-gate is where coffins are left when waiting for the clergyman to arrive to conduct a funeral service. Both theories are plausible but there’s no evidence to support either and in fact lych and lurch are unrelated.

Actually the phrase originates from the French game of lourche or lurch, played in the 16th century. Players suffered a lurch if they were left in a hopeless position from which they couldn’t win the game. The card game of cribbage, or crib, also has a ‘lurch’ position which players may be left in if they don’t progress half way round the peg board before the winner finishes.

The phrase had certainly entered the language by the 16th century as this line from Nashe’s Saffron Walden, 1596, shows:

“Whom he also procured to be equally bound with him for his new cousens apparence to the law, which he neuer did, but left both of them in the lurtch for him.”

A more easily understood line, with the more familiar spelling of lurch, comes not much later in Holland’s Livy, 1600:

“The Volscians seeing themselves abandoned and left in the lurch by them, quit the campe and field.”

Sincerest thanks to Gary Martin of The Phrase Finder


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