The Grammarphobia Blog

Make no bones about it

Q: What does “make no bones about it” actually mean? And where does the expression come from?

A: I’ll answer the easy part first. “Make no bones about it” means be forthright or unhesitating about something: “The Queen made no bones about her objection to the Prince’s divorce.”

As for the origin of the expression, it’s lost in the mists of time. One theory is that the bones refer to the slang term for dice, but word sleuths have generally rejected that explanation.

The best guess is that “make no bones about it” comes from the 15th-century expression “find no bones,” meaning find no difficulties or problems with something. That older expression referred to soup that was easy to swallow because it had no bones in it, according to the Oxford English Dictionary.

“Make no bones” began appearing in print in the 16th century, according to the OED, but “make no bones about it” didn’t show up until 1885: “I shall make no bones about it with this fellow.”

Bone appétit!

Buy Pat’s books at a local store or Amazon.com.