dirty laundry: Idiom Meaning and Origin

What does ‘dirty laundry’ mean?

The idiom dirty laundry refers to someone's private or embarrassing personal matters that one would not want others to know about or discuss publicly.

Idiom Explorer

"Behind Closed Doors"

Dirty laundry is an idiom commonly used in American English to describe someone's personal and private matters, especially embarrassing or scandalous information. The phrase is derived from the literal meaning of the words, with laundry representing the process of washing clothes and "dirty" indicating that the clothes are soiled or unclean. In a figurative sense, "dirty laundry" refers to aspects of a person's life that they prefer to keep hidden.

The idiom "dirty laundry" can be traced back to the early 20th century, with the first recorded use of the phrase appearing in a newspaper article in 1914. Since then, it has become widely recognized and is now an established part of the English language.

Dirty laundry is often used in the context of gossip or media coverage of individuals or public figures. It is frequently seen in headlines or tabloid articles that aim to expose scandals or reveal personal information. The idiom suggests that the information being discussed is not meant to be shared openly or publicly.

While the idiom typically refers to personal matters, it can also be used more broadly to describe any type of sensitive or controversial information. For example, discussions about the inner workings of a company or the details of a political scandal may also be referred to as "dirty laundry."

Dirty laundry piled up in the corner.

The use of the idiom "dirty laundry" carries negative connotations and often implies a sense of shame or impropriety. It suggests a need for secrecy or a desire to avoid public scrutiny. The phrase can also evoke curiosity and intrigue, as people are naturally drawn to scandalous or titillating information.

A related idiom is "air one's dirty linen in public," which means to discuss or reveal one's private problems or conflicts in a public setting. This phrase emphasizes the idea of airing out personal matters that should remain private. It suggests a lack of discretion or a willingness to share intimate details with others.

Another related idiom is "dish the dirt," which means to gossip or share scandalous information about someone. This phrase highlights the act of spreading rumors or divulging secrets that may be considered damaging or embarrassing. It implies a desire to expose or tarnish someone's reputation.

Similarly, the idiom "get the dirty water off one's chest" refers to the act of confessing or revealing something that has been weighing heavily on someone's mind. It emphasizes the need to release or unload a burden of guilt or secrets. This phrase suggests a sense of relief and catharsis that comes from sharing something that has been kept hidden.

Lastly, the idiom "dirty work" is used to describe tasks or activities that are considered unpleasant, unethical, or morally questionable. It refers to actions or responsibilities that others may find distasteful or undesirable. This phrase implies a sense of involvement in shady or deceitful behavior.

The idiom "dirty laundry" refers to personal or private matters that someone wishes to keep hidden. It has a long history and is commonly used in American English. The phrase carries connotations of shame and secrecy, often associated with scandalous or embarrassing information. As with any idiom, its usage may vary depending on the context, but the underlying meaning remains the same.

Example usage

1. She aired her dirty laundry on social media, sharing all of her personal problems with the world.

2. The celebrity's dirty laundry was exposed by tabloid magazines, revealing scandalous secrets about their personal life.

3. It's best to keep your dirty laundry to yourself and not gossip about others behind their backs.

More "Laundry" idioms