Lay of the land or lie of the land

Lay of the land is a phrase that figuratively or metaphorically means the current state of affairs, how something is organized. Literally, the lay of the land is the arrangement of features upon the land. One usually assesses the lay of the land in preparation for action. The idiom lay of the land is first recorded in 1819. A related idiom is the British phrase how the land lies, a usage that turns up in about 1700. According to Google Ngram Viewer, the use of the term lay of the land peaked in the early 1900s. Lay of the land is a North American phrase.

Lie of the land is the British phrase that metaphorically means the current state of affairs, how something is organized. Literally, the lie of the land is the arrangement of features upon the land. In fact, lie of the land and lay of the land mean the same thing.

Examples

“It gives you a good lay of the land of the fest and it’s lots of fun,” said Jessica Julich with O’Neill Communications, which handles marketing for the festival. (The Kansas City Star)

Provincial prosperity took centre stage in Taranaki on Monday as four politicians swooped in to get the lay of the land. (The Taranaki Daily News)

“Anyway, it didn’t appeal to me, so once I got the lay of the land I got out of that territory quickly.” (Vanity Fair)

Getzin, who came from the University of Mississippi, he’s still getting to know the lay of the land. (Winona Daily News)

TWO rescue services have learned the lie of the land at Spitbank Fort during a joint training exercise. (The Portsmouth News)

Prisoners of Geography breaks the globe up into 10 distinct regions and examines just what the implications are behind the lie of the land. (The Evening Standard)

Halilhodzic will now have to learn the lie of the land in a hostile environment where the mood has turned against him, and for a combustible manager with a well-documented history of spiky relations with the press, sparks are guaranteed to fly. (The Japan Times)

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