Definitions

from The Century Dictionary and Cyclopedia

  • n. A verse in some “Latin book in Gothic black letter” (usually Ps. li. 1), formerly set by the ordinary of a prison before a malefactor claiming benefit of clergy, in order to test his ability to read. If the ordinary or his deputy said “legit ut clericus” (he reads like a clerk or scholar), the malefactor was burned in the hand and set free, thus saving his neck.
  • n. Hence A verse or phrase on the pronunciation of which one's fate depends; a shibboleth.

Etymologies

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Examples

  • The clerk was held to be a wondrous person in times when the "neck-verse" would save a man from the gallows; but

    Side Lights

  • -- And looks as if he were conning his neck-verse; and in the same dramatist's play of _The Picture_:

    Flowers from a Persian Garden and Other Papers

  • Thus the wild borderers, when made prisoners, escaped the halter by pretending to read a verse of the _Miserere_, which they had learnt by heart in case of such an emergency, and called their neck-verse; and "without benefit of clergy" was added to new laws, to prevent education from exempting persons from their power.

    Cameos from English History, from Rollo to Edward II

  • Poetry, which I have chosen for my neck-verse, before I proceed to my speech, you will find they fall naturally into this sense:

    The Poems of Jonathan Swift, D.D., Volume 2

  • Upon mine own free-hold, within forty foot of the gallows, conning his neck-verse, [147] I take it, looking of [148] a friar's execution; whom I saluted with an old hempen proverb,

    The Jew of Malta

  • Psalm, "Miserere mei"), was called the "neck-verse," because his doing so saved his neck from the gallows.

    Flowers from a Persian Garden and Other Papers

  • Were't my neck-verse at Haribee "-- the place where such Border rascals were usually executed.

    Flowers from a Persian Garden and Other Papers

  • PARV.ed. 1499.)] [Footnote 147: neck-verse: i.e. the verse (generally the beginning of the

    The Jew of Malta

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  • "A verse in some “Latin book in Gothic black letter” (usually Ps. li. 1), formerly set by the ordinary of a prison before a malefactor claiming benefit of clergy, in order to test his ability to read. If the ordinary or his deputy said “legit ut clericus” (he reads like a clerk or scholar), the malefactor was burned in the hand and set free, thus saving his neck."

    --Cent. Dict.

    November 5, 2012