Sunday, August 11, 2013

Left In the Lurch

I heard someone complain about being left in the lurch, meaning “put in adverse circumstances without any assistance.” I wondered if this had to do with causing someone to lose balance or to stagger around. It turns they are two entirely different kinds of lurch, that have nothing to do with each other.

The off-balance lurch is thought to derive from an 18th-century nautical term, lee-latch, which was a term for a sudden movement of a sailing ship toward the leeside, that is, away from the wind. If the seaman at the tiller allowed a lee-latch (later, lee-lurch), the ship would lurch off-course.

To be left in the lurch, is an earlier term, probably 16th-century, which stems from the French word lourche.   This was a now unknown game, probably similar to backgammon, in which a player could demeurer lourche, that is “become lurch,” if defeated by a score more than twice as great as his own.  Thus, to be “in a lurch,” came to mean to be “in an undesirable position, for which there is no help.”

Yet another meaning of lurch is to “loiter about furtively,” probably a variant of lurk, which derived from the Middle English lorchen. 

The Bard of Buffalo Bayou lurches with some frequency, and you can probably guess why. 

            Left in the lurch by a lad, 
            The maiden thought he was a cad, 
                        And when he departed, 
                        She felt broken-hearted, 
            And more than a little bit mad. 

            She felt that she had been had, 
            And what made her feel really bad 
                        Was she had no way to find him 
                        So that she could remind him 
           Someone soon would be calling him “Dad.”

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