General English


  • noun a layabout, flashy young tough. This modern usage postdates an earlier sense of the word denoting an over-dressed, showy or beautiful man. Since the 1940s the term has been identified specifically with delinquent or disreputable young males. It forms the basis of many combinations such as ‘come the lair’, ‘lair it up’ or ‘ten-cent lair’. Lair is based on a variant form of older British words such as leery, leary, etc.

Origin & History of “lair”

Etymologically a lair is a place where you ‘lie’ down. For it comes ultimately from the same Germanic base, *leg-, as produced English lie. In Old English it had a range of meanings, from ‘bed’ to ‘grave’, which are now defunct, and the modern sense ‘place where an animal lives’ did not emerge until the 15th century. Related Germanic forms show different patterns of semantic development: Dutch leger, for instance, means ‘bed’ and ‘camp’ (it has given English beleaguer (16th c.) and, via Afrikaans, laager (19th c.)) and German lager (source of English lager) means ‘bed’, ‘camp’, and ‘storeroom’.

Layer in the sense ‘stratum’ (17th c.) (which to begin with was a culinary term) may have originated as a variant of lair.