Etymology: Middle English leyen, from Old English lecgan; akin to Old English licgan to lie — more at lie
Date: before 12th century
1. to beat or strike down with force
a. to put or set down <lay your books on the table> b. to place for rest or sleep; especially bury 3. to bring forth and deposit (an egg) 4. calm, allay <lay the dust> 5. bet, wager 6. to press down giving a smooth and even surface 7. a. to dispose or spread over or on a surface <lay track> <lay plaster> b. to set in order or position <lay a table for dinner> <lay brick> c. to put (strands) in place and twist to form a rope, hawser, or cable; also to make by so doing <lay up rope> 8. a. to impose as a duty, burden, or punishment <lay a tax> b. to put as a burden of reproach <laid the blame on her> c. to advance as an accusation ; impute <the disaster was laid to faulty inspection> 9. to place (something immaterial) on something <lay stress on grammar> 10. prepare, contrive <a well-laid plan> 11. a. to bring against or into contact with something ; apply <laid the watch to his ear> b. to prepare or position for action or operation <lay a fire in the fireplace>; also to adjust (a gun) to the proper direction and elevation 12. to bring to a specified condition <lay waste the land> 13. a. assert, allege <lay claim to an estate> b. to submit for examination and judgment <laid her case before the commission> 14. often vulgar to copulate with intransitive verb 1. to produce and deposit eggs 2. nonstandard lie I 3. wager, bet 4. dialect plan, prepare 5. a. to apply oneself vigorously <laid to his oars> b. to proceed to a specified place or position on a ship <lay aloft> Usage: lay has been used intransitively in the sense of “lie” since the 14th century. The practice was unremarked until around 1770; attempts to correct it have been a fixture of schoolbooks ever since. Generations of teachers and critics have succeeded in taming most literary and learned writing, but intransitive lay persists in familiar speech and is a bit more common in general prose than one might suspect. Much of the problem lies in the confusing similarity of the principal parts of the two words. Another influence may be a folk belief that lie is for people and lay is for things. Some commentators are ready to abandon the distinction, suggesting that lay is on the rise socially. But if it does rise to respectability, it is sure to do so slowly: many people have invested effort in learning to keep lie and lay distinct. Remember that even though many people do use lay for lie, others will judge you unfavorably if you do. II. noun Date: 1590 1. covert, lair 2. something (as a layer) that lies or is laid 3. a. line of action ; plan b. line of work ; occupation 4. a. terms of sale or employment ; price b. share of profit (as on a whaling voyage) paid in lieu of wages 5. a. the amount of advance of any point in a rope strand for one turn b. the nature of a fiber rope as determined by the amount of twist, the angle of the strands, and the angle of the threads in the strands 6. the way in which a thing lies or is laid in relation to something else <the lay of the land> 7. the state of one that lays eggs <hens coming into lay> 8. a. usually vulgar a partner in sexual intercourse b. usually vulgar sexual intercourse III. past of lie IV. noun Etymology: Middle English, from Anglo-French lai Date: 13th century 1. a simple narrative poem ; ballad 2. melody, song V. adjective Etymology: Middle English, from Anglo-French lai, from Late Latin laicus, from Greek laikos of the people, from laos people Date: 15th century 1. of or relating to the laity ; not ecclesiastical 2. of or relating to members of a religious house occupied with domestic or manual work <a lay brother> 3. not of a particular profession <the lay public>; also lacking extensive knowledge of a particular subject
New Collegiate Dictionary. 2001.