lay of the land, the - Phrases/Idioms
The American Heritage® Dictionary of Idioms by Christine Ammer. Copyright © 2003, 1997 by The Christine Ammer 1992 Trust. Published by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company. All rights reserved.
The nature, arrangement, or disposition of something, the general state of affairs, as in Once we know the lay of the land, we can plan our advertising campaign. A related expression is how the land lies, as in Let's be cautious till we know how the land lies. This usage originated in Britain about 1700 as the lie of the land and is still so used there.