Idioms

Origin of lay

1
before 900; Middle English layen, leggen, Old English lecgan (causative of licgan to lie2); cognate with Dutch leggen, German legen, Old Norse legja, Gothic lagjan

SYNONYMS FOR lay

1 deposit. See put.
22 calm, still, quiet.

Can be confused

lay lie2 (see usage note at the current entry)downsize fire lay off rightsize terminatelay off layoff

Usage note

Lay1 and lie2 are often confused. Lay is most commonly a transitive verb and takes an object. Its forms are regular. If “place” or “put” can be substituted in a sentence, a form of lay is called for: Lay the folders on the desk. The mason is laying brick. She laid the baby in the crib. Lay also has many intransitive senses, among them “to lay eggs” ( The hens have stopped laying ), and it forms many phrasal verbs, such as lay off “to dismiss (from employment)” or “to stop annoying or teasing” and lay over “to make a stop.”
Lie, with the overall senses “to be in a horizontal position, recline” and “to rest, remain, be situated, etc.,” is intransitive and takes no object. Its forms are irregular; its past tense form is identical with the present tense or infinitive form of lay : Lie down, children. Abandoned cars were lying along the road. The dog lay in the shade and watched the kittens play. The folders have lain on the desk since yesterday.
In all but the most careful, formal speech, forms of lay are commonly heard in senses normally associated with lie. In edited written English such uses of lay are rare and are usually considered nonstandard: Lay down, children. The dog laid in the shade. Abandoned cars were laying along the road. The folders have laid on the desk since yesterday.
Dictionary.com Unabridged Based on the Random House Unabridged Dictionary, © Random House, Inc. 2019

British Dictionary definitions for lay off (1 of 5)

lay off


verb

noun lay-off

the act of suspending employees
a period of imposed unemployment

British Dictionary definitions for lay off (2 of 5)

lay

1
/ (leɪ) /

verb lays, laying or laid (leɪd) (mainly tr)

noun

Word Origin for lay

Old English lecgan; related to Gothic lagjan, Old Norse leggja

usage

In careful English, the verb lay is used with an object and lie without one: the soldier laid down his arms; the Queen laid a wreath; the book was lying on the table; he was lying on the floor. In informal English, lay is frequently used for lie: the book was laying on the table. All careful writers and speakers observe the distinction even in informal contexts

British Dictionary definitions for lay off (3 of 5)

lay

2
/ (leɪ) /

adjective

of, involving, or belonging to people who are not clergy
nonprofessional or nonspecialist; amateur

Word Origin for lay

C14: from Old French lai, from Late Latin lāicus, ultimately from Greek laos people

British Dictionary definitions for lay off (4 of 5)

lay

3
/ (leɪ) /

noun

a ballad or short narrative poem, esp one intended to be sung
a song or melody

Word Origin for lay

C13: from Old French lai, perhaps of Germanic origin

British Dictionary definitions for lay off (5 of 5)

lay

4
/ (leɪ) /

verb

the past tense of lie 2
Collins English Dictionary - Complete & Unabridged 2012 Digital Edition © William Collins Sons & Co. Ltd. 1979, 1986 © HarperCollins Publishers 1998, 2000, 2003, 2005, 2006, 2007, 2009, 2012

Idioms and Phrases with lay off (1 of 2)

lay off


1

Terminate a person from employment. For example, When they lost the contract, they had to lay off a hundred workers. This expression formerly referred to temporary dismissals, as during a recession, with the idea that workers would be hired back when conditions improved, but with the tendency of businesses to downsize in the 1990s it came to mean “terminate permanently.” [First half of 1800s]

2

Mark off the boundaries, as in Let's lay off an area for a flower garden. [Mid-1700s]

3

Stop doing something, quit, as in Lay off that noise for a minute, so the baby can get to sleep, or She resolved to lay off smoking. [Early 1900s]

4

Stop bothering or annoying someone, as in Lay off or I'll tell the teacher. [Slang; c. 1900]

5

Place all or part of a bet with another bookmaker so as to reduce the risk. For example, Some bookmakers protect themselves by laying off very large bets with other bookmakers. [Mid-1900s]

Idioms and Phrases with lay off (2 of 2)

lay


In addition to the idioms beginning with lay

  • lay about one
  • lay a finger on
  • lay an egg
  • lay aside
  • lay at rest
  • lay at someone's door
  • lay a wager
  • lay away
  • lay by
  • lay claim to
  • lay down
  • lay down the law
  • lay eyes on
  • lay for
  • lay hands on
  • lay hold of
  • lay in
  • lay into
  • lay it on the line
  • lay it on thick
  • lay low
  • lay odds
  • lay off
  • lay of the land, the
  • lay on
  • lay one's cards on the table
  • lay oneself out
  • lay on the line
  • lay open
  • lay out
  • lay over
  • lay someone low
  • lay to rest
  • lay up
  • lay waste

also see:

  • let it lay

Also see underlaid uplieput.

The American Heritage® Idioms Dictionary Copyright © 2002, 2001, 1995 by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company. Published by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company.