Printable Version
Pronunciation: bi-lay Hear it!

Part of Speech: Verb, transitive

Meaning: No, this isn't the past tense of belie, though it is a distantly related word meaning 1. Fasten the end of a rope, wire, or cable to something; fasten something or someone with a rope, wire, or cable to something else. 2. Stop, desist.

Notes: The Oxford English Dictionary claims that today's Good Word is sailor's slang, but the first meaning is used also by mountain-climbers, as in 'belay a climbing partner', meaning to belay his or her rope. Someone who belays is a belayer, and the act of belaying is, well, belaying.

In Play: The first sense of belay is mostly the purview of sailors and mountain climbers, but we may use it anywhere: "The roofer was secured by a rope that was belayed to the chimney." I can just hear a 19th pirate saying this in the word's second sense: "Belay the idle chatter, lads, and get back to work!"

Word History: In Old English today's Good Word was belecgan, and meant "to lay a thing around", comprising be- "around, completely" + lecgan "to lay". This original English word derived from the PIE root legh-/logh- "to put down, lay", source also of lay, lair, and law (that which is laid down). Fellow in Old English was feolaga, made up of fe "property; money" (whence fee) + lag "laying down". It originally referred to a business partner. The same PIE root went into the making of Russian legu "I will lie down" and German legen "to lay down". German Lager is a word with several meanings from the same PIE source, all related to lay. 'Lager beer' is beer that lies in cold storage to ferment; Lager in this sense means "storehouse". Zeltlager "tent camp" refers to a place where you lay out your tents.

Dr. Goodword,

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