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A “lie-in” means the practice of resting (either awake or asleep, I believe) while lying down. The OED’s earliest citation is 1867: “The luxury of ‘a long lie in’, is the earliest and most universal of the delights of a working man’s Sunday.” A comparable term is “lie-down.”

They are two of a number of British expressions formed by making nouns out of phrasal verbs; other examples are “fry-up” and “carve-up.” The British also noun-ize some simple verbs that Americans do not, as in “having a sleep” and, indeed, “having a lie.”

Lynne Murphy’s Facebook friend notwithstanding, I don’t see any of these catching on in the U.S. and so, for the time being, categorize them as “On the Radar.”

Update: As commenters were quick to point out, my definition of “lie-in” was seriously wanting, specifically omitting the key element of staying in bed longer than one would normally do, without actually being asleep. It strikes me that this may be a bit of cultural difference that goes beyond language. That is, Americans don’t use “lie-in,” or have our own equivalent, is that we so rarely engage in this practice.

28 thoughts on ““Lie-in”

  1. The British also noun-ize some simple verbs that Americans do not, as in “having a sleep”

    Pretty rich coming from a culture which gave us “sleepover” 😉

  2. I would say that a ‘lie-in’ is when someone decides to not get up and remains in bed because there is no immediate necessity to get out of bed. e.g. on a Sunday morning
    A lie-down is to rest for a short period of time on a bed — probably not going to sleep.

    Best wishes


  3. Lie-in means more than just having a rest lying down. Chambers defines it as “a longer than usual stay in be in the morning.” If you normally get up at seven in the morning and on Sunday you stay in bed till nine, that’s a lie-in. Getting up as normal at seven then going back to bed mid-afternoon is having a lie-down.

    1. Yes – exactly. It can be as little as half an hour on a working day when you don’t have to be in the office early, or not getting up till noon on a Sunday. Sometimes the whole family piles into the parental double bed with newspapers and comics and tea and coffee and the dog.

      A variant which I came across in the West Country many years ago is ‘lie-on’. That may have been just the family parlance of the people I heard using it, though.

    2. For most Americans getting up at seven in the morning would be the same as having a lie-in. Many would normally be at work by that time.

      1. 🙂

        For about five years at the end of the nineties, I lived about a mile away from my office and was due in to work at 8:30. Meant I could get up at 7:30 with plenty of time to eat breakfast before leaving the house at 8:15 for the short walk to the office.

        Mind you, before that, when I lived and worked in London and had a fifteen minute train ride to get to central London, I still didn’t have to leave for the station much later than 7:45.

        Now I’m retired, and getting up at eight is getting up early.

      2. So when Dolly Parton sang “9 to 5” it meant that she started work just before 5am?

      3. Dormouse, I am also retired and entirely agree with you. However, I worked in the States for a couple of years in the early nineties; it was a shock to the system that meetings routinely started at 7.30am. Admittedly, many of my colleagues knocked off for breakfast about an hour later – the main aim seemed to be seen at work early.

      4. Phoebus, seems counter-productive to me. I was reading in New Scientist a few years ago that everyone seems to have their natural time for sleeping. Since retiring I’ve discovered mine is from about 00:30 to 08:30: go to bed later or get up earlier and I feel terrible for much of the day.

        Back when I was working, my company decided to hold a seminar on the future of the department in a conference centre some distance away from our office. They laid on buses but they left at 07:30, an hour earlier than I’d normally get into work, and it was December, so it was dark. When we arrived, we were herded into a lecture hall and as soon as the presentation started they dimmed the lights. I slept through the entire presentation.

        Shortly afterwards, I was sent on a training course at an organisation that dealt with improving performance at work. I mentioned this anecdote and the response was that it was stupid thing to do, it was as if the company were trying to put everyone too sleep. And maybe they were.

      5. Incidentally, I wonder if this is another example of the old adage, Americans live to work, Britons work to live. I programmed computers for 30 years, and when I started, I enjoyed programming. I haven’t programmed a computer for ten years since I retired.

  4. Just to re-iterate the correct definition provided by others above, a “lie-in” is, indeed, the practice of not getting out of bed when you would normally do so.

    What I really don’t recognize, as a native Brit, is your construction “having a lie”. You can “have a lie-in” or “have a lie-down” but I don’t recognize “having a lie” unless it was to be used, in a particularly tortured way, as a way of pointing out that I was “telling fibs”.

    1. The OED’s most recent citation is from “Rebecca,” 1937: Have a good long lie tomorrow morning. Don’t attempt to get up.” So it doesn’t seem to be in current use.

      1. Many years ago in Scotland my parents used the expression “I’m having a long lie” to mean staying in bed longer than usual. I have never heard “lie on” in the West Country where I now live. To “sleep in” I understood to mean sleeping longer than intended. Staff would from time to time turn up late for work explaining they had “slept in.”

  5. I don’t think your definition of lie-in is quite right. It does not apply to any kind of resting (while lying down) but specifically to staying in bed past a usual get up time in the morning.

  6. As a frequent watcher of British TV (on PBS and on BBC America) and movies, I am quite familiar with the term, “lie-in,” which if I’m not mistaken, can last all day, as in deciding to stay in bed all day (sick or not) instead of going to work. I am less familiar with “lie-down” as a noun.

    1. I’ve never heard of it as an all-day thing, Hal. A lie-in is confined to morning: no later than midday (on a Sunday, the laziest day). John Lennon and Yoko Ono did it for a week for world peace but they called it a bed-in.

  7. lie-in vs sleep-in
    I disagree, heathobrien,
    A lie-in is as defined by the above contributors: it does not suggest sleeping, but luxurious vegging when you should be up. Sleeping-in, on the other hand, ususally means accidentally oversleeping when you should be up and doing: at work, for instance (“Sorry I’m late, the alarm didn’t go off and we all slept in”).
    You can plan to sleep in (“I’ve got nothing to do tomorrow: I’m going to switch the alarm off and sleep in.”) This might, of course, be followed by a lie in.
    Another sense of lying-in (sometimes laying-in) is when a woman is being brought to childbirth, and the days of rest after, if she’s lucky enough. Traditionally, a female relative (usually mother or sister) or friend or neighbour would move into the home and keep house for the family for a week or so.
    Like Peter Moore, I don’t recognize “having a lie”. Not ever.

    1. “Sleeping-in, on the other hand, usally means accidentally oversleeping when you should be up and doing: at work, for instance” – I would call that just oversleeping, not sleeping in. In my book, lying in means being in bed longer than usual when there is nowhere I have to be. Sleeping in is the same, but I’m definitely sleeping rather than just lying.

  8. I love my bed.

    I use sleep in to mean when I set my alarm for a later time than usual, or that I plan on sleeping until I wake naturally (being late for work because I sleep in is when I inadvertently wake naturally when I should have got up with the alarm). This situation was beautifully described by my friend, when we were on holiday together, as ‘sleep till we wake up’.

    Once awake, if time allows, I may well have a lie in. This is the decision to stay in bed, despite having woken and theoretically being ready for the day ahead. For me it incorporates daydreaming, dozing and light sleep and is when I have my best sleep dreams too. If I stay in bed to do any activity that requires moving first; to turn on the TV, fetch the paper, make a drink etc I’d call that lounging in bed.

    I work in a busy hospital and often get home utterly exhausted. I’ll eat my tea and then may go to bed for an hour or so. This is a sleep or a nap. If I fail to nod off, because I’m fretting about something, then it’s a lie down – my body has had a rest but my mind hasn’t.

    I am a night owl and manage all the above with ease. The one thing I’ve never mastered is the early night – if I try that I get very little sleep at all.

  9. Just to add: many British people refer to a “lay-in”, in keeping with the common confusion between the verbs “lie” and “lay”, and their various derivatives.

    1. The use of “lay” as in “I was laying down” seems to be primarily an English thing. It’s not used by the Scots or Northern Irish in my experience.

  10. NOOBs are brain worms! Today I overheard a woman tell her friend that she was really tired and needed ‘a sleep’. Both her friend and I knew she meant an hour or so nap rather than a full night’s sleep – but now I also acknowledged the difference that the ‘a’ made in that sentence. Isn’t language funny?

    BTW this was in Bradford, West Yorkshire, which is the only place I know of in the UK that uses the word pants in preference to trousers. I’ve seen it written in school dress codes that students must wear black pants – which to everyone else in the UK would mean the school was being very dictatorial about underwear! If anyone knows how this linguistic quirk arose I’d love an explanation.

    1. No, it’s used in other places. A bloke at works talks about “fishing pants” (he means waders). A while ago, I heard a woman in a supermarket telling her friend that a top she was trying would look good with her black pants. I don’t think she was thinking of walking around half naked…
      Here’s a newspaper report where they use “pants” and “trousers” to mean the same:

  11. Being an American living in the UK, my experience is that “having a lie-in” is the British equivalent of what Americans would call “sleeping in.”

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