what does up before the beak mean?

before a judge and how it became known as this

6 Answers

  • 8 years ago
    Best answer

    Possibly from Anglo-saxon béag "metal made into circular ornaments, as a ring, bracelet, collar, garland, crown; (1) a crown, garland; (2) a collar, necklace; (2a) a shackle for the neck;"

    A magistrate would wear a beag, hence the expression.

    Possibly from beak= large nose (as a sign of a prominent person), or from the notion of "sticking ones nose into other peoples matters" The expression meant "constable, or JP" before it meant Judge.

  • Bilbo
    Lv 7
    8 years ago

    Beak is slang for a justice of the peace, magistrate, headmaster etc. As all these people wear gowns which gives them a bird-like appearance the term beak was applied. Other theories are the gold collar worn by magistrates (beag) lent its name or it dreives from Old French beccus or beck for constable and thence any authority figure and goes back to the 16th century at least.

  • Anonymous
    8 years ago

    It was originally an 18th century London expression for a magistrate. Beak was slang for a large nose and magistrates were considered to have particularly long noses that they poked into everyone's business. It has been extended to mean headmaster.

    The shop steward of our union

    Was up before the beak

    He sentenced him to 18 months

    Our Jack got up to speak

    The maximum is 12 m'lud

    The judge replied "What rot!

    You've always wanted time and a half

    And that's what you've just got.

  • 8 years ago

    As I think you already know, "up before the beak" means "brought to court to appear before a magistrate".

    Why "up"? Because in court, criminals were traditionally brought up from the holding cells located in the basement. This gives rise to the related expression "to get sent down", meaning to be convicted and sent to prison - because a convicted criminal was sent back to the basement cells before being transferred to a prison.

    Why "beak"? That's more difficult. The expressions seems to have arisen in 18th Century criminal slang. Just for interest, by attribution, "beak" also came to be used to describe other authority figures, such as schoolmasters.

    It's old-fashioned British slang and would not be used at all nowadays.

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  • 8 years ago


    Chiefly Brit. Slang. - a judge; magistrate.


    beak - judge or magistrate, also nose, alluding to a bird's bill - beak meaning judge or magistrate typically appears in the phrase 'up before the beak', meaning appearing in court. There are various suggestions for the origins of beak meaning judge or magistrate, which has been recorded as a slang expression since the mid-18th century, but is reasonably reliably said to have been in use in the 16th century in slightly different form, explained below. Francis Grose's 1785 Vulgar Tongue dictionary of Buckish Slang and Pickpocket Eloquence includes the entry: Beak - a justice of the peace or magistrate. In the 19th century the term beak also referred to a sherif's officer (English) or a policeman, and later (1910) beak was adopted as slang also by schoolchildren for a schoolmaster. I am informed on this point (thanks K Madley) that the word beak is used for a schoolmaster in a public school in Three School Chums by John Finnemore, which was published in 1907. In the First World War (1914-18) being up before the beak meant appearing before an (elderly) officer. Brewer's 1870 slang dictionary suggests beak derives from an Anglo-Saxon word beag, which was "...a gold collar or chain worn by civic magistrates..." Cassells also cites Hotton (1859) and Ware for this same suggested origin, which given that at least one pre-dates Brewer arguably adds extra weight. Brewer also cites an alternative: "...WH Black says 'The term is derived from a Mr Beke, who was formerly a resident magistrate at the Tower Hamlets..." Most moden formal sources however opt for the meaning simply that beak refers to a prominent nose and to the allusion of a person of authority sticking his (as would have been, rather than her) nose into other people's affairs. In considering this idea, it is possible of course that this association was particularly natural given the strange tendency of men's noses to grow with age, so that old judges (and other elderly male figures of authority) would commonly have big noses. Other theories include suggestions of derivation from a Celtic word meaning judgement, which seems not to have been substantiated by any reputable source, although interestingly (and perhaps confusingly) the French for beak, bec, is from Gaulish beccus, which might logically be connected with Celtic language, and possibly the Celtic wordstem bacc-, which means hook. Partridge says that the earlier form was beck, from the 16-17th centuries, meaning a constable, which developed into beak meaning judge by about 1860, although Grose's entry would date this development perhaps 100 years prior. And finally to confuse matters more, Cassells Jonathan Green slang dictionary throws in the obscure (nevertheless favoured by Cassells) connection with harman-beck, also harman, which were slang terms for constable (combining harman meaning hard-man it is suggested, with beck or bec), from the mid 16th century. In summary we see that beak is a very old term with origins back to the 1500s, probably spelt bec and/or beck, and probably referring to a constable or sheriff's officer before it referred to a judge, during which transfer the term changed to beak, which reflected, albeit 200 years prior, the same development in the normal use of the word for a bird's bill, which had settled in English as beak by about 1380 from bec and bek. Whether these comparable developments suggest a stronger possibility for the beak/nose theory versus Brewer's gold collar idea you must decide for yourself. As with several other slang origins, the story is not of a single clear root, more like two or three contributory meanings which combine and support the end result.


  • 3 years ago

    Slang For Judge

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