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The old beak

Posted by Smokey Stover on June 04, 2006

In Reply to: The old beak posted by David FG on June 04, 2006

: : I am wondering where the phrase 'the old beak' or 'up before the beak' comes from. I am sure it relates to being sent before the magistrate (or judge) for some misdemeanour but cannot locate anything on it's meaning, history or the source.

: 'Beak' seems to be of unknown origin: it means not only a Magistrate, but also (formerly) a policeman and a schoolmaster (presumably by extension.)


David's suggestions are entirely confirmed by the OED. "[Derivation unknown. ? from BEAK n.1...
a. A magistrate or justice of the peace.
[1573 HARMAN Caveat (Shaks. Soc. 1880) 84 The Harman beck, the counstable. Gipsy Song in Shaks. Eng. I. viii. 270 The ruffin (devil) cly (take) the nob (head) of the harman beck.] 1799 in Spirit Pub. Jrnls. III. 352 Took a gentle walk to the [police] office..paid my respects to Sir William, and the rest of the beaks...
b. transf. (Schoolboys' slang.) A schoolmaster.
1888 Pall Mall G. 9 Feb. 5/1 One of the Eton masters, or 'beaks', if we may be allowed to use a schoolboy phrase...."