Online Encyclopedia

BEAK (early forms beke and becke, fro...

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Originally appearing in Volume V03, Page 571 of the 1911 Encyclopedia Britannica.
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BEAK (early forms beke and becke, from Fr. bec, late Lat. beccus, supposed to be a Gaulish word; the Celtic bec and beq, however, are taken from the English), the horny bill of a bird, and so used of the horny ends of the mandibles of the octopus, the duck-billed platypus and other animals; hence the rostrum (q.v.) or ornamented prow of ancient war vessels. The term is also applied, in classic architecture, to the pendent fillet on the edge of the corona of a cornice, which serves as a drip, and prevents the rain from flowing inwards. The slang use of beak " for a magistrate or justice of the peace has not been satisfactorily explained. The earlier meaning, which lasted down to the beginning of the 19th century, was " watchman " or " constable." According to Slang and its Analogues (J. S. Farmer and W. E. Henley, 1890), the first example of its later use is in the name of " the Blind Beak," which was given to Henry Fielding's half-brother, Sir John Fielding (about 1750). Thomas Harman, in his book on vagrants, Caveat or Warening for coinmen cursitors, Vulgarely called 'raga-bones, 1573, explains harmans beck as " counstable," harman being the word for the stocks. Attempts have been made to connect " beak" in this connexion with the Old English beag, a gold torque or collar, worn as a symbol of authority, but this could only be plausible on the assumption that " magistrate " was the earlier significance of the word.
End of Article: BEAK (early forms beke and becke, from Fr. bec, late Lat. beccus, supposed to be a Gaulish word; the Celtic bec and beq, however, are taken from the English)
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