Posted by: episystechpubs | February 7, 2017

Editor’s Corner: No Bones

Today I have an idiom for you from our contest: “no bones about it.” Essentially, it means something is stated clearly, without any room for doubt. I have an extended explanation of this phrase from our friends at The Phrase Finder. (I’ve added double quotation marks, but I have not changed the spelling in the article below.)

The actual source of this phrase is close to home and hearth. In 15th century England, if someone wanted to express their dissatisfaction with something, they didn’t “make bones about it,” they used the original form of the phrase and “found bones in it.” This is a reference to the unwelcome discovery of bones in soup—bones = bad, no bones = good. If you found “no bones” in your meal you were able to swallow it without any difficulty or objection.

The earliest citation of the phrase in print comes from the Paston Letters, which include a collection of texts from 1459 relating to a dispute between Paston and the family of the Norfolk soldier Sir John Fastolf (Fastolf was, incidentally, the source of the character Sir John Falstaff in Shakespeare’s Henry IV). In the Paston Letters, the context of which is that the litigants are finally accepting a verdict with no objection, Paston includes the line:

"And fond that tyme no bonys in the matere." [and found that time no bones in the matter]

“Making bones” is usually expressed in the negative. There are rare occurrences of people being described as “making bones” about this or that, and an early example comes from Richard Simpson’s The School of Shakspere, 1878:

"Elizabeth was thus making huge bones of sending some £7000 over for the general purposes of the government in Ireland."

Kara Church

Technical Editor, Advisory

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