Sunday, October 15, 2006

Make no bones about it

Make no bones about
The bones referred to (originally made from bone) are dice. And mean to state a fact in a way that allows no doubt.

When you 'make no bones about' it you are stating all the facts and leaving no doubt. It is believed that this idiom comes from dice which were originally made of bone."

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Mika said...

That makes no sense (and I saw these exact few words, deployed to equally little effect, at another site about English idioms). While it's certainly true that "bones" as a slang term for dice has been in use for a few hundred years and the verb "make" is often used in connection with dice (as when one hopes to "make a point"), simply announcing that sense of "bones" and then implying that you've thereby said something informative about the expression "make no bones about" is silly. How exactly do you get from the fact that bones are dice to the fact that "He makes no bones about it" means "He states it openly." What does "making" "bones" have to do with openness or lack of doubt?

Marty said...

This is a guess, but I think a reasonable one: Dice are famous for their random nature. When things are random, they are uncertain. When things are uncertain, you will have doubt about the outcome. 'Making bones', then is easily tied to doubt. 'Making no bones', on the other hand, suggests leaving nothing to chance and therefore being certain. Now, if someone wants to obscure something, that is, keep it hidden, one will not talk with certainty, but will rather talk like a politician. If someone is talking with certainty, then they are talking openly---or at least we should assume.

Granted, this line of reasoning is imperfect, but the reasoning behind idioms needn't be airtight---we just need to see a connection that could plausibly lie behind an adoption of a certain phrase for certain reasons.