Beck and Call

Are you at someone’s Beck and Call?

To take care of someone’s needs at a moment’s notice is to be at their ‘Beck and Call’. Ready to help someone out when asked. This is the definition but just what does the phrase mean and where did it originate? Let’s look into that.

Monarchs and masters in the Middle Ages would “beckon” their servants. If the servants failed to respond with this gesture, the master would then “call” — hence, the servant being at one’s “beck and call.” The phrase “beck and call” is a popular way for authors to describe a character who is completely devoted to another.

One of the earliest written uses of the phrase “beck and call” comes from 14th-century poet Aemilia Lanyer[1] in her collection, “Salve Deus Rex Judaeorum”. James Usher, a 17th-century Irish bishop, used the phrase in a sermon from his collection titled “Eighteen Sermons Preached in Oxford”, 1640 to describe a sinner’s devotion to the devil.

The Muses doe attend upon your Throne,
With all the Artists at your becke and call
The Sylvane Gods, and Satyres every one,
Before your faire triumphant Chariot fall:
And shining Cynthia with her nymphs attend
To honour you, whose Honour hath no end.

Aemilia Lanyer

… for the wicked God will use no such restraint: Satan shall use them at his pleasure: both in soul and body they shall follow him at his beck and call.

Bishop James Usher

So is it “Beckon” or “Beck and Call”? Writing it as “beckon call” is an example of an eggcorn — a phrase that sounds identical to another when spoken out loud, and only appears incorrect when written out. Say it however you want in conversation, but make sure you write it as “beck and call!”

A Beckoning sign is a type of gesture intended to beckon or call over someone or something. It is usually translated into “come here”. This form of nonverbal communication varies from culture to culture, each having a relatively unique method of indicating invitation or enticement.

Beckoning Etiquette

In the United States, the “beckoning finger” or the “beckoning palm” is the most common gesture implying beckoning. The American beckoning sign is considered an insult in Japan, signifying a dog or other animal. To beckon in Japan, the hand is placed at head level, palm facing down, and waved back and forward with the fingers pointing toward the ground. In the Philippines, beckoning someone in American fashion is regarded as rude and fit only for dogs. It may also be punishable by arrest. The acceptable way to call someone is to use four fingers pointing down, with the palm facing the beckoner.

  1. Emilia Lanier (1569–1645) was an English poet and the first woman to assert herself as a professional poet, through her volume Salve Deus Rex Judaeorum (Hail, God, King of the Jews, 1611). Attempts have been made to equate her with Shakespeare’s “Dark Lady”. Emilia Lanier’s life appears in her letters, poetry, and medical and legal records, and in sources for the social contexts in which she lived. Researchers have found interactions with Lanier in astrologer Dr. Simon Forman’s (1552–1611) professional diary, the earliest known casebook kept by an English medical practitioner. She visited Forman many times in 1597 for consultations that incorporated astrological readings, as was usual in the medical practice of the period. The evidence from Forman is incomplete and sometimes hard to read (Forman’s poor penmanship has caused critical problems for past scholars). However, his notes show she was an ambitious woman keen to rise into the gentry class. [Back]


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Author: Doyle

I was born in Atlanta, moved to Alpharetta at 4, lived there for 53 years and moved to Decatur in 2016. I've worked at such places as Richway, North Fulton Medical Center, Management Science America (Computer Tech/Project Manager) and Stacy's Compounding Pharmacy (Pharmacy Tech).

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