from the GNU version of the Collaborative International Dictionary of English

  • n. a verse or saying, the utterance of which decides one's fate; a shibboleth.


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  • Interesting! Thanks, c_b.

    September 24, 2008

  • Benefit of clergy was an 'escape hatch' to avoid the gallows that "dated from the Middle Ages and applied to anyone who could read a certain passage from the Bible. It was always open to a particular page, the first lines of Psalm 51: 'Have mercy upon me, O God, according to thy loving kindness: according unto the multitude of thy tender mercies blot out my transgressions.' The original tilt was in favor of priests and monks, since most laymen could not read. By colonial times everyone—male, female, even slaves—was using what had come to be called the 'neck verse' to get off. Not that they had all learned how to read. But even the dullest magistrates finally came to realize that with a little work almost any fool could memorize the Good Book's magical formula."

    —James A. Cox, "Bilboes, Brands, and Branks: Colonial Crimes and Punishments," CW Journal, spring 2003

    September 24, 2008