Sunday, June 04, 2006

To a Starving Dog, Everything Looks Like a Bone


Since we are endoskeletal, we don’t think about our bones very often. We take them for granted until we fracture one, but they are our staunch supporters and they deserve better.

Let’s indulge in some osteo-appreciation by taking a little time to recall the way that bones show up in figures of speech.

For one thing, bones are often used to express intensity or depth. When we say that a quality is bred in the bone or is in someone’s bones, we are saying that it is inherent, an inseparable component. A person who is bad to the bone or rotten to the bone is just as thoroughly corrupt as a cadaver is decomposed. If I am tired beyond endurance, I am bone-tired or weary to the bone. Aridity is expressed by bone-dry or dry to the bone, but in a downpour, you are soaked to the bone. If you catch a draft while wet, you may be chilled to the bone. A laggard is so useless that he’s bone-idle; he’s a lazy-bones. When I am absolutely convinced that something is about to happen, I feel it in my bones. And something that wounds us deeply, especially emotionally, is close to the bone.

Cemeteries, of all places, have been given descriptive names based on bones, the last survivors. They have been called bone factories or bone orchards or boneyards. Sometimes people wind up in one if they weren’t taken to a sawbones soon enough after an accident. This is especially true if your vehicle was T-boned, struck from the side by another vehicle. Others have been done in by earthquakes (bone rattlers) or shattered by violent rides (boneshakers), or they have been involved in bone-crushing events that were enough to shake their bones.

Other bone imagery includes
  • bag of bones (emaciated)
  • bare bones (no frills)
  • big-boned (large)
  • bonehead (idiot)
  • bone of contention (source of disagreement)
  • bone to pick with you (disagreement)
  • bone up (study for a test)
  • boned (copulated)
  • boner (mistake or erection)
  • bones (dice or an underlying plan)
  • brittle bones (fragile)
  • funny bone (sense of humor)
  • grind your bones into paste (threat)
  • make no bones about it (don’t object)
  • skin and bones (emaciated)
  • take you apart bone by bone (threat)
  • toss [the dog] a bone (stave off)
  • work your fingers to the bone (grinding labor)
Finally, there are the protruding bones of the hand--the knuckles. Knuckle balls and knuckle dusters show up in baseball, but only a knucklehead would try to dust off burly batters; that would invite a knuckle sandwich. On the home front, when using a knuckle buster (wrench), it’s a case of knuckling down or knuckling under.

As children, we used to answer taunts with the refrain, "Sticks and stones may break my bones, but names will never hurt me." There's a skeleton of truth in that.

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