Skin and Bones (nothing but)

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Just skin and bones

Meaning of Idiom 'Nothing but Skin and Bones'

To be nothing but skin and bones means to be extremely thin and emaciated. 1,2


This idiom can be used to describe a person (or an animal) who is thin enough to be unhealthy looking, even when they are not so thin as to appear emaciated. Although it is always a gross exaggeration, as no person could be "nothing but skin and bones" and remain alive, it is sometimes a greater exaggeration.

While skin and bones is often preceded by nothing but, the phrase can be used as an adjective as in "he is skin and bones."


"The actress lost so much weight she was nothing but skin and bones and fans feared she was anorexic."

"The prisoners in NAZI concentration camps were skin and bones."

"Lisa, you need to eat something," said Grandma, "you're nothing but skin and bones."


This idiom is often assumed to be of Biblical origin, from Job 19:19-20. There are several different common translations of the passage. According to the King James version:

"My bone cleaveth to my skin and to my flesh, and I am escaped with the skin of my teeth."

Some very modern translations, especially the New International Version, use the modern idiom:

"I am nothing but skin and bones; I have escaped only by the skin of my teeth."

The modern idiom has been in use since the 1400's and, rather than deriving from the Bible, it would appear that the modern translations simply substituted this common expression for the older translations.

1. Pare, May. Body Idioms and More: For Learners of English. United States?: Mayuree Pare, 2005.
2. Ammer, Christine. American Heritage Dictionary of Idioms. Boston: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2013.

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