You may lay to that

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DTwings

Member
Italiano
Hi everyone! I'm reading Stevenson's "Treasure island" , and the main character , Long John Silver, always ends his speech by saying "and you may lay to that"; for example, <<A word for you is enough. I know a gentleman, and you may lay to that>>. I guess it means "you can be sure of that". but I'm not certain.
Can you help me?
Thank you in advance!
 
  • Loob

    Senior Member
    English UK
    Hello, DTwings

    "Lay to that" here means "bet on that"/"wager on that" - this sentence is actually cited in the OED's entry for "lay":
    b. absol. or intr. To wager, bet.

    [...]
    1883 R. L. Stevenson Treasure Island I. iv. xx. 159, I know a gentleman, and you may lay to that.
    1889 M. E. Carter Mrs. Severn I. i. xiii. 254, I lay I'll keep drier on my own shanks.
    I don't think we'd use "lay" in exactly that way today, though we might say "you can lay odds on that".

    And yes, the idea is similar to "you can be sure of that".
     

    tzer0

    New Member
    English
    lay to Nautical 1. To bring (a ship) to a stop in open water.
    2. To remain stationary while heading into the wind.
     

    chong lee

    Senior Member
    türkçe
    <-----Threads have been merged at this point.----->

    Hi,
    The quote is from the book "Treasure Island".
    Silver is getting angry with a poor guy.
    I did not get the verb "lay to".

    Thanks

    "If you had been mixed up with the like of that, you would never have put another foot in my house, you may lay to that. And what was he saying to you?"
     
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    PaulQ

    Senior Member
    UK
    English - England
    OED
    Lay v1
    Etymology: Old English lęcgan
    The normal representative of the Old English infinitive and of the 1st pers. singular and the plural present tense, would be *ledge; the existing form of the present-stem is evolved from the 2nd and 3rd pers. singular present tense, in which the g of the Germanic verb was followed not by j but by i, and therefore escaped the West Germanic gemination, so that Old English in these instances has g instead of cg.

    12 a. To put down or deposit as a wager; to stake, bet, or wager (a sum, one's head, life, etc.). Also to lay a wager .
    a1300 Floriz & Bl. (Hausknecht) 786 Ȝerne he wile þe bidde and preie, Þat þu legge þe cupe to pleie.
    1887 C. Bowen tr. Virgil Eclogues iii. 29 This heifer I lay thee lest thou decline..what stake for the coming battle is thine?

    I suspect, without evidence that it may be related to "lodge" as in to "lodge a bet." 5. To throw down on the ground, lay flat. Now only of rain or wind: To beat down crops.
     

    suzi br

    Senior Member
    English / England
    Thanks for that etymological work. Very interesting.

    It seems the modern idiomatic equivalent is "You can bet on it."
     
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    Vianney

    Senior Member
    France
    Hello,

    I think this phrase is simply an invention by Stevenson and not at all an old expression. At least it has never been in any dictionary nor in any book before Treasure Island.
    But I would like to know if you think that "lay to" come from "bet" or from the sea phrase "to lay to" = "to bring to" = "to heave-to" = to stop ?
    This point has not been elucidated.
     

    Andygc

    Senior Member
    British English
    It's not an invention of Stevenson's, it's the meaning Loob and PaulQ have already quoted, and have referenced in the OED. To make a statement and follow it by "and you can heave to that" would be meaningless. To "heave to" is an intransitive verb.

    I'm curious about how you know this has never been in a book before Treasure Island. You must have spent all of your life reading old books.
     

    Vianney

    Senior Member
    France
    Well, when i search through google books, I find no example of this before 1883 and "Treasure Island"

    I found only two or three examples as "Heaven grant the labours of the ministry of the church may lay to it that axe which hews down all unrighteousness"

    But I think "lay to" in this sens means "impose" or somethink like.

    Loob quoted only Stevenson. PaulQ quoted something else.
    The OED gave the phrase simply because they have found it in Treasure Island.

    "Heave to" is perhaps intransitive but not so "lay to'
     

    Andygc

    Senior Member
    British English
    The Google Books database starts, if I remember correctly, in 1800. It seems extremely unlikely that the Google book scanners have seen every book published in English since 1800, and we can be confident that they have not scanned every book printed in English before 1800.
    Loob quoted only Stevenson. PaulQ quoted something else.
    They both quoted the OED.
    The OED gave the phrase simply because they have found it in Treasure Island.
    No, they gave the citation as an example of the verb "to lay" being used to refer to gambling.
    "Heave to" is perhaps intransitive but not so "lay to'
    You may be confusing "lay to" and "lie to", as well as being incorrect. The ship's captain can decide that his vessel should "lay to" or "heave to". They mean the same. That is certainly an intransitive use:
    1798 Ld. Nelson in Dispatches & Lett. (1845) III. 20 The Terpsichore..continued to lay to under bare poles.
    1866 R. M. Ballantyne Shifting Winds (1881) xiii. 131 [He] was obliged to lay-to until daylight, as the weather was thick.
    The other phrasal verb is "lie to" which is also intransitive, and means exactly the same as "lay to"
    1801 Asiatic Ann. Reg. 1800: Chron. 117/2 It blew a strong gale..on which Lieut. Roper handed all his sails, except the mizen, which he balanced, and lay to.
    1883 R. L. Stevenson Treasure Island v. xxvi. 212 Take a turn round the capstan, and lie-to for the tide.
    The first example uses the past tense of "to lie". The second example shows that Stevenson knew the meaning of "lie to" (which may or may not be hyphenated).
    The other nautical use is of "to lie" but not as a phrasal verb. It refers to a ship being at rest (a standard meaning of "to lie") it is, again, intransitive. Since this use is part of my normal recreational vocabulary (as is "heave to") I won't bother to find a citation in a dictionary. A boat can lie to a mooring, lie against a harbour wall, lie alongside, lie astern, lie abeam, and lie to anchor. I'm sure there are more variants of adverbs and prepositions which can collocate with "lie" when referring to ships.

    "Heaven grant the labours of the ministry of the church may lay to it that axe which hews down all unrighteousness"

    But I think "lay to" in this sens means "impose" or somethink like.
    No, it means to take the axe and swing it with gusto, but it is a bit of a difficult and archaic sentence.

    Edit
    PS. It is possible to use "bring to" as a transitive verb.
     

    Vianney

    Senior Member
    France
    All the books are not in Google Books, but the books start from the very first printed books and not from 1800. You can see by yourself.

    The OED gave the phrase simply because they have found it in Treasure Island.
    They have found it in TI because it was only in this book they could find it. But I grant that as they placed it in the "Bet" section of the word "lay" it is likely that the meaning of "lay" in this phrase is "bet". But I not quite sure because in TI sailors are all talking in sea langage and "lay to" is sea langage but not "bet".

    Here is an example from treasure island with "lay to" used with "ship"
    "The coxswain told me how to lay the ship to."
     

    Andygc

    Senior Member
    British English
    Yes, you have a good point. My apologies, I had overlooked the separable transitive use. That applies to all of them:

    "The coxswain told me how to lay the ship to."
    "The coxswain told me how to lie the ship to."
    "The coxswain told me how to heave the ship to."
    "The coxswain told me how to bring the ship to."

    However, the unseparated forms are not used transitively. We don't say "He hove to the ship" We say "The ship hove to", "He hove to" or "He hove the ship to". I've managed, by a Google search, to find only two examples of "hove to the ship" used transitively and no examples of "lay to the ship".

    They have found it in TI because it was only in this book they could find it.
    Sorry, but I don't understand you. The OED cites text to illustrate meanings. It doesn't seek to cite every example. There was no need to find another example of "and you may lay to that" meaning "and you may bet on that". However, even if Stevenson coined this phrase, the verb "to lay" still has the meaning of "to lay a bet".
     

    Vianney

    Senior Member
    France
    You must be right. But I can't find any other example of "lay to" with this meaning. I can find "lay on" or "lay" but not "lay to".

    Sorry, but I don't understand you. The OED cites text to illustrate meanings. It doesn't seek to cite every example.
    What I mean is if TI had never been written, not only this quote wouldn't have been there, but also the form "may lay to that" would not have been quoted at all, because there is no other example of this particular expression (I think) before this book.
     

    Andygc

    Senior Member
    British English
    What I mean is if TI had never been written, not only this quote wouldn't have been there, but also the form "may lay to that" would not have been quoted at all, because there is no other example of this particular expression (I think) before this book.
    I understand. You may well be right. It is possible that Stevenson was the first writer to use this exact form of words in a book (as I said earlier he may have "coined this phrase"), but we cannot be sure of that. We also cannot know if he heard it before he wrote it. He came from a family of lighthouse builders and did spend time in contact with sailors.

    There are, of course, many expressions whose origin is known with some certainty - Shakespeare gave us several.
     

    Loob

    Senior Member
    English UK
    Vianney, the verb in the Stevenson quote isn't "lay to", it's "lay". The phrase splits as "you may lay ... to that", not "you may lay to ... that".

    And he definitely wasn't the first person to use "lay" to mean "wager" - as you've said yourself;).
     

    substatica

    New Member
    English
    Reading Treasure Island to my son currently and came across this phrase.

    I have some sailing experience and I do think it refers to the sailing term. Here's how I understand it:

    To heave to, to become hove to, also called lay to, in open water requires wind -- it is the wind you are heaving to/laying to in this situation. Most things in sailling, while at sail, are in relation to the wind (direction). This maneuver is a way to stop the majority of a ship's movement, but also keep it relatively steady for the purpose of over-nighting (without anchor), having lunch, going for a swim, rethinking one's course, etc.

    Without a certain amount of steady wind you can't perform this maneuver as it relies on wind in the sails working against the rudder to put the motion of the ship in a sort of bobbing stalemate. Attempting this maneuver without a steady wind will result in the ship drifting uncontrolled.

    The phrase "you may lay to that," spoken mostly, if not solely, by Long John Silver in Treasure Island, and always after a statement, in my opinion, is him likening his statement to a steady wind that one could lay a ship to. Wind being the most important thing to sailors, it's a strong statement to say one's word is as good as a steady wind that you can trust your ship, and thus your life, to -- and you may lay to that.

    An alternate, but similar, reading, would be that he is likening his words to an anchor that one could lay the ship to, as one can also "lay to anchor," or "lay at anchor," but I still believe it to be wind.
     
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    Andygc

    Senior Member
    British English
    I've been sailing all my life. Your statement that you need a steady wind to heave to is inaccurate. In any case, the now obsolete "lay to" meaning "heave to" is a phrasal verb and to be used in the way you suggest would have to be "You may lay to to that".
     

    substatica

    New Member
    English
    I've been sailing all my life. Your statement that you need a steady wind to heave to is inaccurate. In any case, the now obsolete "lay to" meaning "heave to" is a phrasal verb and to be used in the way you suggest would have to be "You may lay to to that".
    If the wind isn't steady, the boat will drift when it dies down. Heaving to requires wind. You disagree that the full phrase was "lay the boat to wind" or "heave to wind"? I took that wind was eventually left out of this phrase since it's the default, one only need mentioning what to lay to if it's not the wind, anchor for example.
     

    Andygc

    Senior Member
    British English
    A few points.

    Yes, heaving to requires wind. If there is no wind the ship is drifting, which would make any attempt to heave to pointless - if the ship is drifting there is nothing the crew can do other than get out the longboat and start towing. There is no requirement for the wind to be steady.

    A ship cannot lay to an anchor. It can lay an anchor (lower it to the bottom) or it can lie to an anchor. In a ship lay to an anchor, lay is the past tense of lie. The verb is to lie, not the phrasal verb to lie to, which means the same as the other phrasal verbs to lay to and to heave to.

    In the days when ships were sailed for trade and there were no yachts sailing for fun, ships did not heave to, lay to or lie to to stop for a swim, to have lunch, to have a think about navigation or to have a sleep. Ships hove to to reduce their speed to make soundings or to let a pilot come aboard. Apart from such leisurely uses, the principal function of heaving to was to deal with strong winds - either repairing equipment, or outlasting a gale. There is no suggestion in the concept of laying, lying or heaving to that the wind is your trusty friend. On the contrary, when hove to in an increasing gale, the wind is your potentially lethal enemy.

    The verb to lay has a well-established meaning relating to betting going back to the 14th century and the editor of the OED seems confident that Long John Silver was a betting man. I am happy to accept his interpretation.
    "Lay to that" here means "bet on that"/"wager on that" - this sentence is actually cited in the OED's entry for "lay":I don't think we'd use "lay" in exactly that way today, though we might say "you can lay odds on that".

    And yes, the idea is similar to "you can be sure of that".
     

    substatica

    New Member
    English
    A few points.

    Yes, heaving to requires wind. If there is no wind the ship is drifting, which would make any attempt to heave to pointless - if the ship is drifting there is nothing the crew can do other than get out the longboat and start towing. There is no requirement for the wind to be steady.

    A ship cannot lay to an anchor. It can lay an anchor (lower it to the bottom) or it can lie to an anchor. In a ship lay to an anchor, lay is the past tense of lie. The verb is to lie, not the phrasal verb to lie to, which means the same as the other phrasal verbs to lay to and to heave to.

    In the days when ships were sailed for trade and there were no yachts sailing for fun, ships did not heave to, lay to or lie to to stop for a swim, to have lunch, to have a think about navigation or to have a sleep. Ships hove to to reduce their speed to make soundings or to let a pilot come aboard. Apart from such leisurely uses, the principal function of heaving to was to deal with strong winds - either repairing equipment, or outlasting a gale. There is no suggestion in the concept of laying, lying or heaving to that the wind is your trusty friend. On the contrary, when hove to in an increasing gale, the wind is your potentially lethal enemy.

    The verb to lay has a well-established meaning relating to betting going back to the 14th century and the editor of the OED seems confident that Long John Silver was a betting man. I am happy to accept his interpretation.
    My examples of stopping for lunch or to swim were that of modern day usages of heaving to. Though in Treasure Island, the passage you quoted earlier lends a fair amount of support to my interpretation (and having lunch hove to),

    "The coxswain told me how to lay the ship to; after a good many trials I succeeded, and we both sat in silence over another meal."
    But fair enough, I had already accepted that the wager interpretation was a reasonable possibility. However, I don't think the case against my interpretation is as strong as you're trying to put forth.
     
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    Loob

    Senior Member
    English UK
    For me, the syntax itself argues against your "phrasal verb" interpretation.
    If lay to is intransitive, as in The ship lays to, then "lay to that" is not possible.
    If lay to is transitive, as in They lay the ship to, then "lay to that" is also not possible - it would be "lay that to".
     

    substatica

    New Member
    English
    For me, the syntax itself argues against your "phrasal verb" interpretation.
    If lay to is intransitive, as in The ship lays to, then "lay to that" is not possible.
    If lay to is transitive, as in They lay the ship to, then "lay to that" is also not possible - it would be "lay that to".
    I don't accept that as fact. It's clear that one may "lay the ship to," why is it so far fetched that the phrase may imply (and may have been common at one point) "lay the ship to the wind," since that is indeed the action one is taking, laying the ship in a certain position in relation to the wind. There are plenty of examples of "how a ship lays to the wind" as in the position of a ship in relation to the wind. Not sure why you accept one usage as fact and not entertain the possibility of the other.

    Consider these two possible extended versions of Long John's catch phrase,

    "You may lay to my words as you would a ship to the wind."

    "You may lay to my words as you would pieces of eight to table with a winning hand."

    Given that, in this same book, the term "lay to," is used elsewhere in its nautical definition, I think both are possible explanations, but, personally, I think the first example is more plausible, and befitting the book and character.
     
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