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Bone Up on It

Posted by ESC on October 30, 2000

In Reply to: Bone Up on It posted by Bob on October 29, 2000

: : I told my teenage offspring that I could not provide taxi service for them today 'cause I have to "bone up" on a certain subject for an extremely important meeting this week.
: : I know of "bone dry" and "make no bones about it" and even a "bone of contention" but does anybody know why reaquainting yourself with a certain body of knowledge is called "boning up"???

: The OED is not very clear on this, but they call it American slang, 19th C., with several variations. The first text reference to "bone up" has General Custer in 1876 using it, and his boigrapher calling it a "West Point phrase." There's another older slang verb, "bone" which is speculatively identified with the persistence of a dog on a bone. I'd venture a guess that that older usage may have influenced the earlier; persistent study?

BONE; BONE UP ON - "Bones were once used to polish shoes, and some scholars have attempted to link such bones to the expression 'to bone up on a subject,' to study it hard and thoroughly, especially for an exam. One would then 'polish up' his knowledge, presumably, but bones probably have nothing to do with this term. It was first used in the 1860s by collegians, and they apparently first spelled the 'bone' in the phrase 'Bohn,' probably referring to the Bohn translations of the classics, or 'trots,' that they used in studying. British scholar Henry George Bohn (1796-1884) was the author and publisher of many books, including the 'Classical Library.'" From "Encyclopedia of Word and Phrase Origins" by Robert Hendrickson (Facts on File, New York, 1997).