If you’ve ever mistaken beck and call for beckon call, you’re not alone. Using beckon call does make sense — after all, you're “beckoning” and “calling.”
However, the actual phrase is 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.”
Monarchs and masters in the Middle Ages would physically beckon (or the shortened beck) their servants by waving to them. 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 now a popular way for authors to describe a character who is completely devoted to another. It still has the original meaning of someone who is at the whim or command of another.
Think of beck and call as a modern “text and call.” When someone fails to respond to your text, you may consider giving them a call (unless the thought of a phone call makes you shudder).
One of the earliest written uses of beck and call comes from 14th-century poet Aemilia Lanyer in her collection, Salve Deus Rex Judaeorum.
"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."
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.
"... 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."
Beck and call has plenty of modern applications as well. In 2014, satirist and author Margaret Atwood used the phrase in a New York Times opinion piece titled "Are Humans Necessary?"
"To understand Homo sapiens' primary wish list, go back to mythology. We endowed the gods with the abilities we wished we had ourselves: immortality and eternal youth, flight, resplendent beauty, total power, climate control, ultimate weapons, delicious banquets minus the cooking and washing up - and artificial creatures at our beck and call."
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You may find yourself at someone’s beck and call — or someone at your beck and call — more often than you think. Examples of beck and call in a sentence include:
- When Susana was sick with the flu, her husband was at her beck and call for a week.
- I hate working nights at this restaurant; I’m always at each customer’s beck and call.
- My pregnant best friend needs me at her beck and call in case a craving for sour cream chips hits again.
- We regretted helping Bryan move after he texted us all weekend, expecting us to be at his beck and call long after the boxes were unloaded.
- When you have a new baby, you’re at their beck and call all day — and all night.
The next time you have someone at your beck and call, enjoy the royal feeling that comes with the phrase's history. But unless you’re an actual king or queen, avoid treating that person like a servant.
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