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A guess...

Posted by Gary Martin on March 15, 2000

In Reply to: A guess... posted by ESC on March 15, 2000

: : The question of the origin of the phrase "A Bone of Contention" came up at my office and I wonder if anyone can help?

: I thought this would be an easy one. But I couldn't find a thing in any of my reference books. Here's my guess. If you have two dogs (and I do) and one bone, they are going to "fight" over it. One will grab the bone and run. Then the second dog will overtake the runner and snatch the bone away. And so forth. So if there is a particular issue that is causing strife between two people or a group of people, it's a bone of contention. How's that for a guess?

As usual, ESC has this right. That version agrees with the OED which is good enough for me.

OED: to cast a bone between: in allusion to the strife which a bone causes between dogs.

Comes complete with ye olde reference:

1562 J. Heywood, The diuell hath cast a bone to set stryfe Betweene you.

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