lay/lie of the land, the

lay of the land

 
1. Lit. the arrangement of features on an area of land. (Also with lie, especially British English.) The surveyor mapped the lay of the land. The geologist studied the lay of the land, trying to determine if there was oil below.
2. Fig. the arrangement or organization of something other than land. As soon as I get the lay of the land in my new job, things will go better. The company's corporate structure was complex, so understanding the lay of the land took time.
See also: land, lay, of

lay of the land

The nature, arrangement, or disposition of something.
See also: land, lay, of

lay/lie of the land, the

The general state of affairs. This term, which in Britain is always put as the lie of the land, originated in the seventeenth century and alluded to surveying. An early appearance in print is in A New Dictionary of the Canting Crew (ca. 1700): “How lies the land? How stands the reckoning?” In the twentieth century it came to be used figuratively for any investigation of conditions, without reference to real estate. Thus E. H. Gombrich wrote (The Story of Art, 1950), “To show the newcomer the lie of the land without confusing him.”
See also: lay, lie, of