What Does "No Bones about It" Mean?

Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

The English idiom “make no bones about it” is used in two slightly different ways. In the first sense, it means discussing or stating something in a very open, clear way which leaves little room for dispute or argument. The idiom can also be utilized to refer to accepting something without objection. Many English speakers are familiar with this somewhat archaic idiom, although they may be unaware of its origins.

Woman with hand on her hip
Woman with hand on her hip

In fact, the earliest version of this idiom was the reverse: in the 1400s, people were “making bones about it” when they wanted to raise a fuss. The idiom appears to be related to soup, with the idea being that soups with bones in them were difficult and unpleasant to swallow, while soups which had been strained to remove the bones could be smoothly consumed. When someone made bones about something, he or she was indicating a difficulty with accepting or swallowing it.

As late as the 1800s, situations in which bones were being made about something were being discussed and written about. Over time, however, “make no bones about it” began to be a more commonly accepted version of this idiom. The term is often used in slang, especially slang which is supposed to convey a snappy, care-free character. Modern ears are somewhat less accustomed to it, as it has faded away, along with many other colorful idioms.

While the soup origin would seem to be highly likely, some other theories have been posited to explain this idiom. One suggestion has been that the term is related to dice, which used to be made from bone, with the idea that dice-players would be clear and straightforward in their dealings, focusing on the win. However, “make no dice about it” sounds a bit strange to the ear, and this theory is probably a backformation. Some people have also suggested that the term may be related to the concept of dogs fighting over a bone, because presumably dogs would not squabble if no bones were present to make a fuss over.

Today, many people use the idiom to mean “without argument,” as in “you'll do your homework, and no bones about it!” In the sense of laying something out clearly, “no bones about it” suggests that the situation was described so plainly that no possible objections or arguments could have been raised, because all of the facts and supporting materials were presented.

Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a wiseGEEK researcher and writer. Mary has a liberal arts degree from Goddard College and spends her free time reading, cooking, and exploring the great outdoors.

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Discussion Comments


"I have a bone to pick with you" is a similar phrase which tends to support the soup theory.

Certainly in times past people "had a bone of contention".

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