Go
New
Find
Notify
Tools
Reply
  
Bone to Pick Login/Join
 
Junior Member
posted
Anyone have a bone to pick with someone? origin?
 
Posts: 24Reply With QuoteReport This Post
Member
Picture of arnie
posted Hide Post
Welcome, goofball! Smile

The Word Detective (Evan Morris) mentions this in passing:
quote:
"Bone to pick," which dates back to the 16th century, simply refers to a dog chewing endlessly on, and "picking clean," a large bone. A "bone to pick" is thus a subject or issue that is expected to require considerable discussion or argument. A similar phrase, "bone of contention," meaning an issue over which two people argue, also dates back to the 1500s and refers, appropriately, to two dogs fighting over an especially choice bone.


Build a man a fire and he's warm for a day. Set a man on fire and he's warm for the rest of his life.
 
Posts: 10930 | Location: LondonReply With QuoteReport This Post
Member
Picture of Kalleh
posted Hide Post
Goofball, you ask such good questions!

In looking for validation of the Word Detective (and secretly hoping that I might find Arnie wrong...my life's goal Wink), I found an interesting piece about "boning up" in Phrase Finder. It says, "From the classics study texts that were published by Henry George Bohn, 1796-1884." I couldn't find validation of "boning up" in either Quinion or Word Detective. Is it "boning" up because his name is "Bohn?"
 
Posts: 23298 | Location: Chicago, USAReply With QuoteReport This Post
Member
posted Hide Post
arnie noted what Word Dective has to say, but I respectfully disagree that explanation.

According to Word Detective (emph. added),
    "Bone to pick," ... simply refers to a dog chewing endlessly on, and "picking clean," a large bone. A "bone to pick" is thus a subject or issue that is expected to require considerable discussion or argument.
OED gives no etymology for our original phrase "to pick a bone with someone". But here's what I'd suggest (based upon phrases and definitions from OED):

To pick a bone is to strip it clean of all flesh. (1774: [Vultures] pour down upon the carcass; and, in an instant, pick its bones as bare and clean as if they had been scraped by a knife.) This matches with figratively using "a bone to pick" to mean "something to occupy one as a bone does a dog; a difficulty to solve, a ‘nut to crack’."

Notice that this no way inplies that two parties, or that they are in dispute over the bone. There may be only one party ("a dog"), or multiple parties working cooperatively (the vultures), not in dispute.)If "a bone to pick" is a 'tough nut to crack', you could imagine that I you and I are people working together to solve that problem, I am 'picking that bone' with you.

And yet the phrase "have a bone to pick with someone" certainly does imply two parties in dispute. So it can't come directly from the phrases noted above.

(That is, Word Detective's first quoted sentence does not support its second. The image of a dog worrying a bone does not "thus" imply two parties in opposition ["discussion or argument"]).

So where do we get our meaning of the phrase "a bone to pick with someone"? My guess is this that it is a blend (or confusion) of three phrases:
  1. a bone to pick on, as above
  2. a bone of contention. As Word Detective notes, this does have the sense of two dogs disputing the bone.
  3. Perhaps most importantly, to make bones about, meaning "to make objections about, find difficulty in". (Nowadays we more often say "make no bones about".) Here the image is of soup with has bones in it, which are objectionable as they are an obstacle to its being easily swallowed.
 
Posts: 1184Reply With QuoteReport This Post
Member
Picture of shufitz
posted Hide Post
quote:
Originally posted by Kalleh:I found an interesting piece about "boning up" in Phrase Finder. It says, "From the classics study texts that were published by Henry George Bohn, 1796-1884." I couldn't find validation of "boning up" in either Quinion or Word Detective. Is it "boning" up because his name is "Bohn?"
Online Etymology agrees. It says, "To bone up 'study' is 1880s student slang, from 'Bohn's Classical Library,' a popular series in higher education."
 
Posts: 2603 | Location: Chicago, IL USAReply With QuoteReport This Post
Member
Picture of Kalleh
posted Hide Post
Very nice analysis, Wordnerd. That's what I love about this site. Does anyone have an idea on how reliable Word Detective is? Of course, as we've learned, anyone, including the OED, can make a mistake every once in awhile.
 
Posts: 23298 | Location: Chicago, USAReply With QuoteReport This Post
Member
Picture of arnie
posted Hide Post
I'd say that Evan Morris's The Word Detective site is pretty reliable. He writes a syndicated newspaper column as well. His parents, William and Mary Morris, were both respected lexicographers, so he was born to the job, as it were.


Build a man a fire and he's warm for a day. Set a man on fire and he's warm for the rest of his life.
 
Posts: 10930 | Location: LondonReply With QuoteReport This Post
Member
posted Hide Post
In general I'd agree with arnie's assessment of Word Detective.

But I'd add that Mr. Morris, like all who answer such questions, is largely relaying what others have said; it would be hard to believe that he's researched all these points himself. In other words, he's a secondary (or tertiary, etc.) source, and would be repeating errors introduced along the way. (That's in addition to his own errors, which surely are few and far between.)

Mr. Morris typically does not name his sources, by the way, and that approach, though quite reasonable, does makes it difficult to consider or critique his logic. I noticed that his explanation for "bone to pick with you" is not adopted by OED, which gives no etymology for the phrase.

A further point with today's technology, a researcher can search far more sources than in the past. And surely the newly-found information will will sometimes refute etymologies that had previously seemed reasonable.
 
Posts: 1184Reply With QuoteReport This Post
Member
Picture of shufitz
posted Hide Post
quote:
Originally posted by wordnerd: surely the newly-found information will will sometimes refute etymologies that had previously seemed reasonable.
An example is the etymology of Windy City as a nickname for my home town, Chicago.

For decades the name was thought to come from an editorial of the early-1890s, when New York, Chicago and others were vying to be awarded the next World's Fair -- the first in the New World. The civic boosters were avid. It was said that newsman Charles Dana of New York had editorialized that the "windbags" of that "windy city" weren't capable of hosting a fair successfully.

All agreed that the name originated thus. You can find that story told repeatedly in books and newspapers. Oddly, the belief was in no way deterred by the niggling fact that no one could locate the supposed Dana editorial.

The story has been disproved. About ten years ago Barry Popik uncovered earlier usages in the newspapers, well before the World's Fair was in anyone's mind. Popik has now pushed it back to 1876. So much for the previous "consensus agreement".
 
Posts: 2603 | Location: Chicago, IL USAReply With QuoteReport This Post
<Asa Lovejoy>
posted
quote:
interesting piece about "boning up" in Phrase Finder.


I don't know how it's used these days, but in my youth the term also had a sexual meaning. If a teacher were to tell us to bone up for an exam, there would be multiple snickers from both genders.
 
Reply With QuoteReport This Post
Member
Picture of Kalleh
posted Hide Post
quote:
I don't know how it's used these days, but in my youth the term also had a sexual meaning.

Hmmm, my youth missed that one, though I can see the point. (Heh! Heh!)
 
Posts: 23298 | Location: Chicago, USAReply With QuoteReport This Post
Member
posted Hide Post
quote:
Originally posted by Kalleh:
quote:
I don't know how it's used these days, but in my youth the term also had a sexual meaning.

.. though I can see the point. (Heh! Heh!)

I didn't even know it was showing! When I was a kid, boner didn't just mean mistake.

Tinman
 
Posts: 2769 | Location: Shoreline, WA, USAReply With QuoteReport This Post
Member
posted Hide Post
And remember that old nursery rhyme:

Old Mother Hubbard went to the cupboard
To get her poor dog a bone,
When she bent over, Rover took over
And gave her a bone of his own.

Tinman
 
Posts: 2769 | Location: Shoreline, WA, USAReply With QuoteReport This Post
Member
posted Hide Post
quote:
Originally posted by Kalleh: Does anyone have an idea on how reliable Word Detective is?
Here's something I stumbled upon while looking for something to say about a recent word off the day, "New York minute". Decide for yourself whether Word Detective accurately reports the source it cites.

Word Detective says, "A fascinating book by Irving Lewis Allen called "The City in Slang," published by Oxford University Press, traces "New York minute" to the frantic pace of life in the Big Apple."

Allen's book has only one reference to 'New York minute', and that in a footnote. It reads:
[text; see next page to verify chapter title]: In 1915 Variety wrote that the frenetic vaudeville singer and dancer Eva Tanguay was "the spirit of the Subway Rush" and "admirably personifies the Amreican ideals of hurry."¹² [footnote]: ¹²Quoted in Snyder (1989, 150-51). Cf. today's expression New York minute.
 
Posts: 1184Reply With QuoteReport This Post
Member
Picture of Caterwauller
posted Hide Post
Tinny, what a lovely and wholesome rhyme *tongue in cheek icon*. LOL - I'll be laughing about that all day. I don't know if I'll ever be able to share that Mother Goose rhyme with a straight face again. Sigh.

Yes, boner is still used with this connotation by the youth of today. It's another word that could be on that list of "words that used to be safe to use."


*******
"Happiness is not something ready made. It comes from your own actions.
~Dalai Lama
 
Posts: 5149 | Location: Columbus, OhioReply With QuoteReport This Post
  Powered by Social Strata  
 


Copyright © 2002-12