Neck verse

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The verse formerly read to entitle a party to the benefit of clergy, said to be the first verse of the fifty-first Psalm, "Miserere mei," etc.
a verse or saying, the utterance of which decides one's fate; a shibboleth.
- Sir W. Scott.

See also: Neck, Neck

Webster's Revised Unabridged Dictionary, published 1913 by G. & C. Merriam Co.
References in periodicals archive ?
The account of Jonson's early years is particularly dramatic, and not only because this was the time in which he was most involved in the theatrical profession; he was also in jail several times, and Donaldson plausibly suggests that references to being saved by one's "neck verse," in Jonson and others, acquired a personal resonance after the dramatist had pleaded benefit of clergy in order to escape death for killing Gabriel Spencer in a duel.
Later, in medieval London's criminal underworld, Psalm 51 became known as the "Neck Verse"; the ability to recite its lines to jailers could free the convicted of the death penalty.