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LAY, a word of several meanings. Apart from obsolete and dialectical usages, such as the East Anglian word meaning “pond,” possibly cognate with Lat. lacus, pool or lake, or its use in weaving for the batten of a loom, where it is a variant form of “lath,” the chief uses are as follows: (1) A song or, more accurately, a short poem, lyrical or narrative, which could be sung or accompanied by music; such were the romances sung by minstrels. Such an expression as the “Lay of the Nibelungen” is due to mistaken association of the word with Ger. Lied, song, which appears in Anglo-Saxon as léoð. “Lay” comes from O. Fr. lai, of which the derivation is doubtful. The New English Dictionary rejects Celtic origins sometimes put forward, such as Ir. laoidh, Welsh llais, and takes O. Mid. and High Ger. leich as the probable source. (2) “Non-clerical” or “unlearned.” In this sense “lay” comes directly from Fr. lai (laïque, the learned form nearer to the Latin, is now used) from Lat. laicus, Gr. λαϊκός, of or belonging to the people (λαός, Attic λεώς). The word is now specially applied to persons who are not in orders, and more widely to those who do not belong to other learned professions, particularly the law and medicine. The New English Dictionary quotes two examples from versions of the Bible. In the Douai version of 1 Sam. xxi. 4, Ahimelech tells David that he has “no lay bread at hand but only holy bread”; here the Authorized Version has “common bread,” the Vulgate laicos panes. In Coverdale’s version of Acts iv. 13, the high priest and his kindred marvel at Peter and John as being “unlearned and lay people”; the Authorized Version has “unlearned and ignorant men.” In a cathedral of the Church of England “lay clerks” and “lay vicars” sing such portions of the service as may be performed by laymen and clergy in minor orders. “Lay readers” are persons who are granted a commission by the bishop to perform certain religious duties in a particular parish. The commission remains in force until it is revoked by the bishop or his successors, or till there is a new incumbent in the parish, when it has to be renewed. In a religious order a “lay brother” is freed from duties at religious services performed by the other members, and from their studies, but is bound by vows of obedience and chastity and serves the order by manual labour. For “lay impropriator” see Appropriation, and for “lay rector” see Rector and Tithes; see further Laymen, House of. (3) “Lay” as a verb means “to make to lie down,” “to place upon the ground,” &c. The past tense is “laid”; it is vulgarly confused with the verb “to lie,” of which the past is “lay.” The common root of both “lie” and “lay” is represented by O. Teut. leg; cf. Dutch leggen, Ger. legen, and Eng. “ledge.”1 (4) “Lay-figure” is the name commonly given to articulated figures of human beings or animals, made of wood, papier-maché or other materials; draped and posed, such figures serve as models for artists (see Models, Artists). The word has no connexion with “to lay,” to place in position, but is an adaptation of the word “layman,” commonly used with this meaning in the 18th century. This was adapted from Dutch leeman (the older form is ledenman) and meant an “articulated or jointed man” from led, now lid, a joint; cf. Ger. Gliedermann.

1 The verb “to lie,” to speak falsely, to tell a falsehood, is in O. Eng. léogan; it appears in most Teutonic languages, e.g. Dutch lugen, Ger. lügen.

Transcriber's note: A few typographical errors have been corrected. They appear in the text like this, and the explanation will appear when the mouse pointer is moved over the marked passage. Sections in Greek will yield a transliteration when the pointer is moved over them, and words using diacritic characters in the Latin Extended Additional block, which may not display in some fonts or browsers, will display an unaccented version.

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