No bones about it

A Chicken Runs Through It.

Dear WD: I very much appreciate your site — it will take me some time to read all your columns (but I will). But in the meantime, I need to find the origin of the phrase “no bones about it.” Any help you can offer will be very helpful.– Michael A. Rayl.

I sometimes wonder what’s really going on when people write me saying they “need” an answer. Am I missing out on some lucrative wager riding on my response? Am I determining, unwittingly, the outcome of a extravagant contest, the grand prize of which is a week on the Riviera? Is this why so many of my readers send me “thank you” cards from Hawaii? How do I get in on the action?

Oh well. Whatever the truth, I have no choice but to soldier on, so here goes. To “make no bones about it,” means to do something in a straightforward or unapologetic manner — to “just do it.” According to Christine Ammer’s book “Have A Nice Day — No Problem,” a dandy dictionary of cliches, “make no bones about it” is such an ancient phrase, dating to at least 1548, that its origins cannot be accurately traced. As is usual in such cases, however, there are theories. It may have originally arisen as a metaphor, referring to someone who did not make a fuss if bones turned up in his or her soup or stew. Or (there’s never just one theory, you’ll notice) it may be based on “bones” being a very old slang term for dice. Someone who “made no bones” would be a player who simply cast the dice when his turn came, omitting all the mystical (and annoying) little rituals (such as blowing on, or talking to, the dice) gamblers often develop to conjure up good luck in a game.

Leave a comment