The term "lay public" is so commonly used that it is almost always abbreviated to "public", making the full form rare. Errhm. Let's try that again. The concept of the lay public is so often referred to that the short form "public" is by far the dominant method of referring... Errhm-hrm! The concept of the public... Oh, splak it.
The public, or lay public, just as you like, are the people who are outside whatever group the speaker conceives himself or herself, just as you like, to belong to at the moment of speaking. Thus we scholars, when we speak of the lay public, are speaking of those who are not scholars. I pause here in reverent memory of Doc Rockett.
Eh? Oh yes. But on the other mandible, at the Harrabloon Bank, the public, or lay public, are those who are not Bank employees. Thus we have the paradoxical situation (from the viewpoint of us scholars) that with respect to the Bank archives, scholars are... members of the public! Oh, the embarrassment. I'm sure all we scholars would be far too virtuous to wish to expose the shady financial dealings of, say, our neighbors, or government bigwigs, or...
But as I was saying. From the viewpoint of thespians, the public are those who pay (or do not pay) to put their members in the seats to watch the play. The latter group, the non-paying members of the public, are intended to be few in number. When they are many, the "house", as members of the theatrical profession call their theatres, though why I do not know, is said to be "papered", though why I do not know.
Likewise, to the members of Ghyll's many secret societies, to which I have the honor not to belong to any of, the public or as they are sometimes called the "cowans" (with no allusion to myself intended whatsoever) are simply the non-members against whom the secrets, howsoever trivial, are to be kept. Of course the truly serious secrets are most commonly hidden in plain sight, as the saying is, for no member of the (relevant) public who learned of them would believe them. But enough of that.
It is of course possible to take the matter too far. We do not suppose that horses consider us, the Ghyllians, to be the public with respect to them, though my grasp of Horse Code is insufficient to resolve the matter directly, always assuming that a horse could be made to understand the relevance of the point.
An etymological note: the word "lay" as used in "lay public", "lay person" and so on is an old word for "ignorant", which sufficiently indicates the attitude of insiders, generally speaking, to outsiders, generally speaking. The related word "lewd" also formerly meant "ignorant", but due to a connection with the sexual sense of "lay" has been semantically dragged into the pit, as it were.
I cannot conclude without some mention of The Uninformed. This group considers itself to be a representative of the public, "public" here being as defined by the Bureau of Regained Knowledge. Yet by constituting themselves a movement, they create implicitly a new definition of "public", namely those who are neither BORKers nor themselves Uninformed. So it is that any group claiming to speak for the public, or (in political contexts) the people, invariably puts themselves outside the people or public, just as you like.
So with all these societies and guilds, who's left to belong to the actual public? Well, we all will just have to use the term "lay public" on each other, thus bypassing much semantic inefficiency. So there.
--John Cowan 10:43, 12 Aug 2005 (EDT)