- “Beck and Call” is the proper spelling of the expression and is used to describe situations where one person does whatever is asked of them by another.
- “Beckon Call” and “Bacon Call” are errors most likely caused by mishearing the proper expression.
Have you ever heard an expression over and over (and even used it yourself) only to realize that what you were hearing and the actual expression were two different things?
It’s sort of like when you’ve been singing a song for decades, and then someone suddenly looks at you and says, “Those aren’t the right lyrics.” Maybe you even looked up the correct lyrics yourself and felt like a fool.
Don’t stress. You’re not alone.
It is common for the brain to take words and sounds and make inferences about what you hear when the articulation isn’t clear. Sometimes, you even hear someone else saying an expression wrong, and others pick it up and use the improper form as well.
One expression that, while not frequently used, is often misheard or mispronounced is beckon call. Beck and call? Bacon call? Let’s clarify and see what that expression really is.
Beck and Call
We will begin with this version because it’s the one you want.
To be at someone’s beck and call is to be available to do things for someone whenever they ask. Another similar phrase is “to wait on someone’s hand and foot” or even “to have someone wrapped around your little finger.” These all mean to be at their bidding or willing to attend to their every whim.
Often, the expression demonstrates one’s authority or power over someone else or condescendingly refers to someone who behaves in this fashion.
- Don’t worry about Patrick. He’s at my beck and call. As soon as I need something, he’s there.
- Johnny has Elizabeth at his beck and call. I can’t believe she doesn’t see that he’s just using her.
Other times, it can be used playfully or as a form of hyperbole.
- Erica, I’m at your beck and call if you need anything.
- We’re at your beck and call; ring the bell if you need any help.
This common mistake is usually the result of mishearing the expression. There is some logic here; after all, the word beck is short for beckon. Call means to get someone’s attention, so while the two together are synonyms, that is a concept shared with the proper form.
To make this mishearing even more confusing, the two are similar words, as beck and beckon are related and find their roots in Old English. But beck and call does not require a physical gesture or even imply one.
The confusion comes from the brain hearing the secondary sound of “and” and attributing it to the conclusion of the familiar word, “beckon,” much the way it can puzzle out words and phrases even though they are unclear, misspelled, or have omitted words.
Your brain makes an inference and fills in the blank. Sometimes, you may not even notice words are missing, especially if you read back through your writing for revision.
Check this out:
Ti dosent evne mater wethre teh lttres rae rearagend, mseplled, misng, ro sdrawkcab, u nac oprobly figre t uot!
Anyway, here’s how NOT to use this expression.
- The band director likes it when his students are at his beckon call.
- When Sheila broke her leg, Mike was at her beckon call.
- My grandma was at my beckon call when I was sick.
In any of the above sentence examples, just replace “beckon call” with the correct phrase, “beck and call” to follow grammar rules and properly use this phrase.
Your brain may even hear the phrase “beacon call” instead of “beck and call.”
This is also far from the only example of this phenomenon. Take the example of an eggcorn instead of an acorn. If you sometimes get confused about words you hear, consider checking the correct spelling of a phrase in the Oxford English Dictionary before writing anything.
Now that’s what I’m talking about! BACON!
While this is a phrase that people might enjoy hearing at breakfast time (or at any part of the day since it’s bacon we’re talking about), proper use of this phrase would be alerting people that the bacon is cooked and ready, and you should come and get some.
It’s rather disappointing when you hear “bacon call,” and it’s just someone who has misheard how to say “beck and call.”
While bacon call does sound similar to beck and call, it is not an acceptable substitute for the correct option. If you hear someone pronounce it this way, step in before a bacon enthusiast gets their hopes up.
Life is difficult enough to get through without expecting bacon and finding no bacon.
Examples from Literary Sources
Let’s take a look at how the expression is used in various literary sources.
Silver chauffeured Mercedes minivans with multilingual guides are at our beck and call every day.
The New York Times
It suggests Officer Daniels was at the drug dealer’s beck and call.
Patients are anything but free when they’re at the beck and call of their own delusions.
Just remember that the correct way is always beck and call. Bacon is sadly not part of the idiom. That said, you may use a shortened form of the phrase or even the wrong version in speech. Most people won’t notice or care enough to assign a negative connotation. They may even assume you just slurred the end of the word with the beginning of the next. Just be sure to avoid misspelling and misuse in written communications, especially in a professional situation and when writing to employees.
Further reading: Wracking or Racking Your Brain?