How the dead lie
A reader who has seen news articles about the late William Donald Schaefer “lying in repose” and “lying in state” wonders what the distinction is, and which is the more proper.
An article by Daniel Engber a few years back in Slate.com explained that you lie in state if your coffin is displayed in the rotunda of U.S. Capitol and you are given a state funeral. A deceased president honored in the East Room of the White House or a senator in the Senate chamber would be said to lie in repose. That is a strict view—although Mr. Engber points out that outside Washington, the terms are often used interchangeably.
A somewhat more nuanced distinction was provided by David Gura at NPR.com. Mr. Gura consulted Donald A. Ritchie of the Senate Historical Office: “According to him, when a member of government dies, if his casket is on display in a government building — including the Capitol — he lies in state. If his casket is in any other building, he lies in repose. If the person is not a member of government, he lies in honor.”
Regrettably, our website had Mr. Schaefer “laying in repose,” prompting an email from a former editor that fairly shrieked. (We fixed it.) We might just be able to sort out state and repose, but I am very much afraid that we are destined never to have much luck with lie and lay.