Beck and Call - Meaning, Origin and Usage

Are you on call for work? If so, you could say that you are at the "beck and call" of your boss, and you'll have to spring into action when they call you into work. This post unpacks this idiomatic expression's meaning, origin, and use.

Beck and Call Meaning

If you are at someone's "beck and call," it means that you are subservient to the person and willing to respond to any request they make of you. Essentially, you'll drop anything you're doing to turn your attention to them and do whatever they want you to do.

"Beck" is a shortened form of "beckon," which means "to signal silently, by a motion of the hand or finger, or a nod, indicating your acknowledgment of a command or request made by another person."

This saying is the modernized version of "beckon call," and "beck and call" is simply a misinterpretation and mispronunciation of the original phrase.

However, the new version rolls off the tongue easier. While it's not technically grammatically correct, it's an example of how we value the sound of sayings and words over the grammatically correct spelling or saying.

Beck and Call Example Usage

"We're starting a huge project at work tomorrow, and I'm at the beck and call of my manager for the next few weeks while getting it off the ground."

"The wife is 9-months pregnant, and we're expecting any day now. So, I'm at her beck and call till further notice."

"I am a the beck and call of my instructor right now, there is no one available to take the afternoon classes, and they might need me to do it."

"The beck and call of the ocean get me thinking about my next session in the water."

Beck and Call Origin

The phrase "beck and call" originates from Aemilia Lanyer's poem "Salve Deus Rex Judaeorum," published in 1611. The text says the following.

"The Muses doe attend upon your Throne,

With all the Artists at your becke and call."

The spelling for the phrase would change "becke" to "beckon" in 1929, in a citation from the Modesto News-Herald, which reads as follows.

"Down through the history of American wars, from the Revolutionary to the recent World conflict," the speaker declared, "America always has had at its beckon call men who would give their all for their country that people might enjoy peace and freedom."

However, the phrase would shorten the word "beckon" to "beck" as more people started using the phrase in the mid-1900s.

Phrases Similar to Beck and Call

  • Beckon and call.
  • Always on call.
  • Ready 24/7.

Phrases Opposite to Beck and Call

  • Always unavailable.
  • Unprepared and incapable.

What is the Correct Saying?

  • Beck and call.

Ways People May Say Beck and Call Incorrectly

Some people may use the more outdated version of the phrase, "beckon and call," which no longer has any use in the modern English language due to the shortening of the word. "Beckon" disappeared from everyday use many decades ago, and some people might find it confusing when you use the term.

Acceptable Ways to Phrase Beck and Call

You can use the phrase "beck and call" when referring to being on call for someone or that you're willing to do whatever a person asks. If you tell someone that you're at their "beck and call," you're telling them that they can call you anytime for assistance. The phrase suits professional and social use. If the office, you could be at the beck and call of your boss, and at home, you could be at the beck and call of your partner or children.

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