Understanding the Idiom: "meat on the bones" - Meaning, Origins, and Usage

Idiom language: English

When we talk about something having “meat on the bones,” we are referring to its substance or value. This idiom is often used in a figurative sense, meaning that there is more to something than meets the eye. It can be applied to a variety of situations, from describing a piece of writing that has depth and complexity to evaluating a business plan that has potential for growth.

The Origin of the Idiom

The exact origin of this idiom is unclear, but it likely comes from the idea that meat on bones represents nourishment and sustenance. In other words, when there is plenty of meat on the bones, there is enough food to go around and everyone can be satisfied. This metaphorical use of “meat on the bones” has been around for centuries and continues to be used today.

Examples of Usage

This idiom can be used in a variety of contexts, as mentioned earlier. For example, if someone says that an article they read had “a lot of meat on its bones,” they mean that it was well-researched and provided valuable insights beyond what was expected. Similarly, if someone describes a movie as having “no meat on its bones,” they mean that it lacked substance or depth.

In business settings, this idiom might come up when discussing investment opportunities or evaluating proposals. A proposal with “plenty of meat on its bones” would have clear goals and strategies for achieving them, while one with “little meat on its bones” might lack detail or feasibility.

Origins and Historical Context of the Idiom “meat on the bones”

The idiom “meat on the bones” is a common phrase used in English to describe something that has substance or value. It is often used to refer to an idea, plan, or proposal that has been fleshed out and developed into a more concrete form.

The origins of this idiom are not clear, but it likely dates back many centuries. The concept of meat being valuable and substantial has been around for as long as humans have been eating animals for sustenance. In fact, there are references to “meat on the bones” in literature dating back to medieval times.

The Evolution of the Idiom

Over time, the meaning of the idiom has evolved from its literal interpretation (i.e., actual meat on actual bones) to a more figurative one. Today, it is most commonly used in business settings to describe proposals or plans that have been thoroughly researched and developed.

Cultural Significance

The use of idioms like “meat on the bones” reflects cultural values and beliefs about what is considered valuable or important. In Western cultures, where meat consumption has historically been associated with wealth and status, this idiom takes on added significance.

Usage and Variations of the Idiom “meat on the bones”

The idiom “meat on the bones” is widely used in English language to describe something that has substance, value or importance. It refers to a situation where there is enough content or detail to make it worthwhile or interesting. This phrase can be applied in various contexts, including business, literature, entertainment and everyday conversations.

Variations of the Idiom

While the basic meaning of “meat on the bones” remains consistent across different situations, there are variations of this idiom that have emerged over time. One such variation is “fleshing out”, which means adding more details or information to an idea or plan. Another variation is “beefing up”, which implies making something stronger or more substantial by adding more material.

Usage Examples

The idiom “meat on the bones” can be used in a variety of ways depending on the context. For instance:

  • A movie critic might say: “This film had some good ideas but lacked meat on its bones.”
  • A manager might say: “We need to flesh out our marketing strategy before presenting it to investors.”
  • A chef might say: “I’m going to beef up this soup by adding more vegetables and spices.”

Synonyms, Antonyms, and Cultural Insights for the Idiom “meat on the bones”

When it comes to understanding idioms, it’s important to explore their synonyms and antonyms. This can help you grasp the full meaning of the phrase and use it correctly in conversation. Additionally, delving into cultural insights can provide a deeper understanding of how an idiom is used in different contexts.


The idiom “meat on the bones” refers to something that has substance or value. Synonyms for this phrase include “substantial,” “meaningful,” and “worthwhile.” These words all convey a sense of importance or significance.


In contrast, antonyms for “meat on the bones” might include words like “insubstantial,” “trivial,” or “unimportant.” These words suggest that something lacks value or significance.

Understanding these synonyms and antonyms can help you better understand when to use the idiom in conversation. For example, if someone says they need more meat on the bones of a project proposal, they are likely looking for more substance or detail.

Cultural insights can also shed light on how an idiom is used in different contexts. In some cultures, food-related idioms are common ways of expressing ideas about work ethic or success. For example, in American English we might say someone is working hard to put food on the table – meaning they are doing whatever it takes to provide for themselves and their family.


The idiom “meat on the bones” conveys a sense of substance or value. By exploring its synonyms and antonyms as well as cultural insights surrounding food-related idioms, we can gain a deeper understanding of how to use this phrase in conversation.

Practical Exercises for the Idiom “meat on the bones”

Exercise 1: Identifying Examples

  • Read articles or watch videos related to a topic of interest, such as politics, sports, or entertainment.
  • Identify instances where someone uses the phrase “meat on the bones.”
  • Write down these examples and try to determine what they mean in context.

Exercise 2: Creating Your Own Sentences

  1. Pick a topic or situation that you are familiar with.
  2. Create sentences using “meat on the bones” to describe this topic or situation.
  3. Share your sentences with others and ask them if they understand what you are trying to convey.

Common Mistakes to Avoid When Using the Idiom “meat on the bones”

When using idioms, it’s important to be aware of their correct usage in order to avoid misunderstandings. The idiom “meat on the bones” is no exception. Here are some common mistakes to avoid when using this phrase:

Avoid Taking It Literally

The idiom “meat on the bones” does not refer to actual meat or bones, but rather signifies substance or detail added to a topic or idea. Therefore, taking it literally can lead to confusion and misinterpretation.

Avoid Overusing It

While the idiom can be useful in adding depth and specificity to a conversation or piece of writing, overusing it can make your language sound repetitive and stale. Use it sparingly and only when appropriate.

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