Historically Speaking

Making sense of it all!

Make No Bones About It

Posted by Elyse Bruce on March 6, 2012

When someone says they make no bones about what they’re about to say, what they’re trying to convey is that they are going to plainly state how they think or feel on a subject even though it might embarrass or offend others.  In other words, the speaker is about to be forthright and candid while giving his or her opinion to the audience at large.

The Rock Hill Herald ran a story on July 28, 1976 about Lawrence Paros of Providence, Rhode Island and author of the book “The Great American Cliché.”  He had moved to Rhode Island in 1971 to direct a federal learning program for high school students, however, he grew tired of what he referred to as working within the system, quit and began collecting clichés that became the basis of his book filled with 50,000 entries.  The newspaper article was entitled: 

Make No Bones About It, He’s The King Of Clichés

Back on June 16, 1902, the New York Times published an article dealing with the beet sugar Senators, the United States government’s Reciprocity bill and a rebate of between twenty and fifty percent.  In the end, the government would not yield to the Senators’ demands and the newspaper reported that one Senator stated the following:

“It threatens beet sugar men with ostracism if we do not abandon the plan of Cuban relief to which he told us time and time again he would make no objection.  Even now, in spite of his message, there’s no doubt in my mind that he’d sign a rebate bill and make no bones about it.”

In Part II: Chapter VIII of the book “The Idiot” written by Fyodor Dostoyevsky (11 November 1821 – 9 February 1881) which was published as a serial in The Russian Messenger in 1868 and 1869 – and translated by Frederick Whishaw for publication in 1887, the author wrote:

“As to the article,” said Hippolyte in his croaking voice, “I have told you already that we none of us approve of it! There is the writer,” he added, pointing to the boxer, who sat beside him. “I quite admit that he has written it in his old regimental manner, with an equal disregard for style and decency. I know he is a cross between a fool and an adventurer; I make no bones about telling him so to his face every day. But after all he is half justified; publicity is the lawful right of every man; consequently, Burdovsky is not excepted. Let him answer for his own blunders. As to the objection which I made just now in the name of all, to the presence of your friends, I think I ought to explain, gentlemen, that I only did so to assert our rights, though we really wished to have witnesses; we had agreed unanimously upon the point before we came in. We do not care who your witnesses may be, or whether they are your friends or not. As they cannot fail to recognize Burdovsky’s right (seeing that it is mathematically demonstrable), it is just as well that the witnesses should be your friends. The truth will only be more plainly evident.”

The expression hasn’t been used as often as one might think, however in the book “Paraphrase Of Luke” by Desiderius Erasmus and translated into English by Nicholas in 1548, the command given to Abraham with regards to sacrificing his son, Isaac, is given as:

He made no bones about it but went to offer up his son.

Going back almost another 100 years, the Paston Letters reveal that a version of the expression was used in a letter written in 1459.   For those who may not know about the Paston Letters, it is a collection of letters and papers, consisting correspondence from members, friends and acquaintances of the Paston family, written between 1422 and 1509.  In 1459, a dispute arose between Paston and Sir John Fastolf’s family.  When the verdict in the case was rendered with no objection from either side, Paston wrote:

And fond that tyme no bonys in the matere.
Translation:  and found that time no bones in the matter

This is a significant passage since the expression during the 1400s was that people were making bones about things which indicated that people were raising a fuss over things.  There’s some discussion that the original expression relates to soups with bones in them, with implication being that soups with bones in them were unpleasant to swallow.

In any case, the fact that the expression was already in common usage, having found a place in Paston’s letter of 1459, indicates that the expression is most likely from at least two generations before it was used. This puts the saying to at least 1400.

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