Wednesday, 25 April 2012

Make No Bones

To make no bones about something is a rather odd phrase when you think about it, especially as even modern medical science is unable (to my limited modern medical knowledge) to make bones at all.

The origin of the phrase lies hidden in food and drink and soup (the latter a curious platypus between the two). There's an early sixteenth century poem about a pub in Leatherhead and the quality of the beer there. It had a rather unhygienic landlady:

And sometimes she blens
The dung of her hens
And the ale together...

I've drunk at a pub in Leatherhead, and this makes me wary. However, the landlady is sure that it only affects the new ale. So when, later in a the poem, a girl called Ales (Alice) enters the bar,

And as she was drinking
She fell in a winking [doze]
With a barley-hood [booze-induced stupor]
She pissed where she stood
Then began she to weep
And forthwith fell on sleep
Elynour [the landlady] took her up
And blessed her with a cup
Of new ale in corns
Ales found there in no thorns
But supped it at ones
She found therein no bones.

Because it is only bones that make you choke and spit something back up. A few years later a paraphrase of the New Testament has this phrase about Abraham*:

He made no manier bones ne stickyng, but went in hande to offer up his only son Isaac.

And so on and so forth. Until the seventeenth century a lot of the citations keep something of the food metaphor, but it slowly got lost and the bones that were obvious obstacles to digestion simply became mysterious obstacles that were somehow made.

And pubs in Leatherhead? I couldn't tell you whether they've changed. I was in a barley-hood at the time.

The Inky Fool's horse was looking rather thin.

*Yes, I know, but I can't find a copy of the original to explain.

1 comment:

  1. Do I sense scepticism about the medical profession in the first paragraph?