To the Marrow and Zero to the Bone

Posted by Word Camel on March 08, 2002

In Reply to: Fee Fi Fo Fum posted by Pun Camel on March 08, 2002

: : : : I came across the written phrase "that which is bred in the bone" and got the sense that it means 'that which is determined by inheritance, or genes'. Is this interpretation right? And how common is the phrase? Thanks. - Patty

: : : I've not heard this one before - it looks like an archaic idiom, with the use of "that which...". However, I'd bet that your interpretation is exactly right. "Blood will out" is a fractionally more common phrase with similar meaning.

: : "Bred in the bone" sounds familiar. I don't think it means inherited. I think it's used when a trait goes very deep in someone, however the trait came to be there. "Bred" in the sense of educated, trained, reared (compare "well-bred" or "good breeding"). "In the bone" in the figurative sense that the OED gives for that phrase: "to the inmost part, to the core." "A cook she certainly was, in the very bone and centre of her soul" (Stowe, "Uncle Tom's Cabin," 1850).

: I smell the blood of an English man. Be he alive or be he dead, I'll grind his bones to make my bred?

: ;)

Given that bone marrow is where blood is manufactured, all the comments above make sense.

Here's another favorite reference to "the bone" from Emily Dickinson

A narrow Fellow in the Grass
Occasionally rides -
You may have met him? Did you not
His notice instant is -

The Grass divides as with a comb -
A spotted Shaft is seen,
And then it closes at your Feet
And opens further on -

He likes a Boggy Acre -
A Floor too cool for Corn -
Yet when a Boy and barefoot
I more than once at Noon,

Have passed I thought a Whip Lash
Unbraiding in the Sun
When stooping to secure it
It wrinkled And was gone -

Several of Nature's People
I know and they know me
I feel for them a transport
Of Cordiality;

But never met this Fellow
Attended or alone
Without a tighter Breathing
And Zero at the Bone.
n.b This version of the poem is from The Poems of Emily Dickenson edited by R.W. Franklin and published by The Belknap Press of Harvard University. It differs quite a bit from earlier published versions of her poems that bear "corrections" made by her family. I like these versions better and recommend them to anyone who likes Dickenson. You won't be disappointed.