What does the phrase “to make no bones about a matter” mean and Where does it originate?

The expression “to make no bones about a matter” means to speak frankly; to come out flat-footed; to talk straight from the shoulder; hence, to have no scruples; to show no reluctance, also, to make no mistake (about it), to count on (it).

The Paston Letters (1459) contain the line, “And fond (found) that tyme no bonys in the matere,” and the poet, John Skelton, in The Tunnyng of Elynour Rummyng (1529), wrote, “She founde therein no bones,” wherein in each case “to find no bones” was equivalent to “to find no difficulty; to have no hesitation.”

Accordingly, it seems evident that the allusion in the earliest form of our present expression was to the actual occurrence of bones in stews or soup; “no bones” would be indicative of no difficulty or no hesitation in the swallowing.

The change to today’s expression is shown in the translation by Nicholas Udall (1548) of Erasmus’s Paraphrase of Luke: “He made no manier bones ne stickyng (no scruples nor hesitation), but went in hande to offer up his only son Isaac.”

Many writers since that date have “made no bones” about employing the phrase.

About Karen Hill

Karen Hill is a freelance writer, editor, and columnist. Born in New York, her work has appeared in the Examiner, Yahoo News, Buzzfeed, among others.

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