Dem bones, dem bones, dem dry bones...
Hello out there, I am trying to find out where the phrase make no bones about it came from. Are there any books about stupid everyday phrases and their origination? Would like to hear from anyone with some useful info on this subject.
Thanks. Salomon Family
The Henry Holt Encyclopedia of Word and Phrase Origins says: "Possibly the phrase refers to not making much of the dice or bones when rolling them in a dice game." In other words not putting on the sort of show so loved of movie-makers, where the craps player is getting ready to throw, wearing his lucky underpants, blowing on the dice and yelling: "C'mon baby, rattle them bones, show me what you've got" etc.
Graeme Donald's Dictionary of Modern Phrase acknowledges the gambling possibility, then says: "The expression appears in Nicholas Udall's 1542 translation of Erasmus's Paraphrase of Luke, part of Apophthegms from Erasmus, when the author is discussing the command given to Abraham to sacrifice Isaac. Erasmus writes that 'he made no bones about it but went to offer up his son.' It is unlikely that a man like Erasmus would use a gaming expression when discussing such a subject."
Donald then mentions the other main possibilities: that the bones in question are small ones in a thick soup or stew which "straightforward" people would swallow without question, and that the word bones is linked to bane, as in a cause of complaint.
Nigel Rees's Dictionary of Phrase and Allusion mentions both the soup and gambling possibilities.
Yet another (less likely) possibility is that the expression is linked to pick a bone with someone, which alludes to two dogs fighting over a bone.
As with many such phrases, the origin of make no bones about it is a mystery which will probably remain unsolved.
Word for Word articles