lay of the land

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lay of the land

  1. (idiomatic) The physical characteristics of the terrain or surrounding natural environment.
    • 1857, Henry David Thoreau, chapter 1, in Canoeing In The Wilderness:
      I did not know the exact route, but steered by the lay of the land, as I do in Boston.
    • 1910, Joseph A. Altsheler, chapter 9, in The Riflemen of the Ohio:
      He noted well the locality, the trees, and the lay of the land.
    • 1919, Upton Sinclair, chapter 10, in Jimmie Higgins:
      Because he knew the lay of the land, he could run faster in the darkness than his pursuer.
  2. (idiomatic) The trends, feelings, intentions, and other factors influencing a strategic, political, or social situation.
    • 1901, Charles W. Chesnutt, chapter 17, in The Marrow of Tradition:
      I'll feel the pulse of my friends and yours, and when we get the lay of the land, the affair can be accomplished much more easily.
    • 1907, Gene Stratton-Porter, chapter 11, in At the Foot of the Rainbow:
      "Now look here, Mary," he said, "I've been expecting you. I warn you before you begin that I cannot sanction your marriage to a Protestant."
      "Oh, but I'm going to convart him!" cried Mary so quickly that the priest laughed harder than ever.
      "So that's the lay of the land!" he chuckled. "Well, if you'll guarantee that, I'll give in."
    • 1908, John Fox Jr., chapter 4, in The Trail of the Lonesome Pine:
      She saw the boy's glance, she shifted her knees impatiently and her little face grew sullen. Hale smiled inwardly, for he thought he could already see the lay of the land, and he wondered that, at such an age, such fierceness could be.
    • 2002 March 29, Douglas Waller, “McCain: After Finance Reform, What?”, in Time:
      McCain: I want to see what the lay of the land is after the November elections.

Usage notes[edit]

  • Almost always preceded by the.