bag of bones: Idiom Meaning and Origin

What does ‘bag of bones’ mean?

The idiom *bag of bones* refers to someone who is very thin or emaciated, often used to describe a person's physical appearance.

Idiom Explorer

Decoding This Macabre Expression

One possible explanation for the origin of the idiom "bag of bones" is that it refers to a skeleton or a dead body that has lost all its flesh. The term "bag" is used metaphorically to represent the human body, which is described as containing only bones. In this sense, the idiom suggests extreme thinness or a lack of flesh, emphasizing the skeletal nature of the person being described.

Another possible origin for this idiom may lie in the concept of a bag of bones being weak and fragile. The human body, filled with bones and not much else, can be seen as delicate and easily broken. This interpretation highlights the physical vulnerability of a person who is thin and gaunt.

Additionally, the idiom could have a metaphorical meaning, suggesting that the person being described lacks strength, vitality, or substance. The image of a bag of bones implies a person who is lacking in physical or emotional substance, as if their body is merely a vessel for their bones, with little else to offer.

She had a skeletal frame, thin and emaciated.

In contemporary usage, the idiom "bag of bones" is often employed to describe someone who is underweight or extremely thin. It may be used to express concern for someone's health or to draw attention to their physical appearance.

However, it should be noted that this idiom can also be used in a derogatory manner to criticize someone's appearance or to mock their thinness.

The idiom "bone-idle" is related to the concept of a bag of bones in that it suggests a person who is extremely lazy or inactive. The use of the word "bone" in this idiom conveys the idea of a person whose body is so lacking in energy or movement that it might as well be a bag of bones.

Similarly, the idiom "bone-dry" is related to the image of a bag of bones in that it describes something as completely dry or devoid of moisture. The association with bones in this idiom emphasizes the idea of something being empty or barren, much like a bag of bones with no flesh or substance.

Whether describing someone's physical appearance, strength, or substance, the idiom "bag of bones" continues to evoke a vivid imagery of extreme thinness and fragility. Its usage and meaning have endured over the centuries, attesting to its continued relevancy and power to convey the idea of a person who is skeletal in nature, both literally and metaphorically.

Example usage

Examples of how the idiom "bag of bones" can be used in a sentence:

  • She used to be a professional dancer, but now she's just a bag of bones.
  • After weeks of being sick, he finally gained some weight and isn't such a bag of bones anymore.
  • The stray dog looked like a bag of bones, clearly in need of food and care.

More "Skeleton" idioms

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