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Layman's terms

Posted by TheFallen on September 06, 2002

In Reply to: Layman's terms posted by ESC on September 06, 2002

: : : I've been asked to find information on the origin of the phrase -- in layman's terms. I have found a couple of references that define "layman" as "anyone not in Holy Orders." That evolved into denote a person not of a particular calling, etc. Anyone have any other information?

: : According to the American heritage dictionary, on meaning of lay is "Of or typical of the average common man" it comes from the Middle English laie - which is from the old French, lai, which is from late Latin laicus which is from the Greek, laikos from laos meaning the people.

: : So maybe layman has an independent existance beyond and before holy orders?

: I wish I knew. Here's what I found:

: LAY - "adj. of ordinary people; not of the clergy or a profession. About 1303 'lai' secular; later 'lay' unlearned, uneducated (before 1338); . 'layman' n. (probably about 1415)." From the "Barnhart Concise Dictionary of Etymology" by Robert K. Barnhart (HarperCollins Publishers, New York, 1995). Page 424.

: I don't think I'm going to find anything like an origin or first use for "layman's terms."

I suspect Ms Camel is right in her suggestion as to the original "pure" meaning of lay/laic/layman - referring in all cases to the uninitiated or unqualified. However, according to my sources, the three fields referred to in the more specific definition of "layman" are ecclesiastical, medical and legal. Being obliged as I am occasionally to wade through contracts jam-packed full of legalese - "best endeavours" et al. - I'd say that there's a possible legal ring to "layman's terms". It sounds likes the sort of slightly patronising doublespeak that lawyers so delight in. I have no evidence whatsoever for this opinion - just gut feel.

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