verb (used with object), un·laid, un·lay·ing.

to separate (a strand) from a rope.
to untwist (a rope) in order to separate its strands.

Origin of unlay

First recorded in 1720–30; un-2 + lay1
Dictionary.com Unabridged Based on the Random House Unabridged Dictionary, © Random House, Inc. 2019

Examples from the Web for unlay

Historical Examples of unlay

  • To untwist, to unlay ropes; to teaze, to convert it into oakum.

    The Sailor's Word-Book

    William Henry Smyth

  • Unlay the end of a rope for a short distance, and lay the three strands upon the standing part, so as to form an eye.

    The Seaman's Friend

    Richard Henry Dana

  • Unlay the strands for a convenient length; then take an end in each hand, place them one within the other, and draw them close.

    The Seaman's Friend

    Richard Henry Dana

  • Take the end of a rope and unlay one strand; place the two remaining strands back alongside of the standing part (Fig. 92).

  • The ordinary way of pointing a rope is to first whip as described (Fig. 4), and then unlay the end as for the Flemish eye.

British Dictionary definitions for unlay


verb -lays, -laying or -laid

(tr) to untwist (a rope or cable) to separate its strands
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