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a woman  thoughtfully chewing on a pencil
figure 1  


bone to pick. Something to think about, something you need to gnaw on, to worry as a dog worries a bone.reference 1 Usually the bone you are picking is a difficult nut to crack.

From what I can find, this meaning is rarely employed in contemporary U.S. English. Of the 33 citations in the New York Times from the 1996 to 2006, all of them were references to having a bone to pick with or regarding something.reference 2 None referred to the kind of cogitation described by the OED.



1. The Oxford English Dictionary Online. 2005. 3d ed. Accessed from http://

2. New York Times Online. The New York Times Company, 1851-, Accessed Feb 13 2006 from http:// search/ query.
A wishbone from a fowl

bone to pick with one. A dispute or something disagreeable or needing explanation involving another person.

When you have a bone to pick with someone, they may not even be aware of it, but you know it. The issue probably sticks in your craw. It may or may not be a bone of contention, though the issue generally requires more attention than one of contention. In this sense, the kind of reflection noted above plays a part; picking a bone is not the same as simply picking a fight.


3. The Oxford English Dictionary Online.

About the illustrations: Figure 1 shows a young woman gnawing on her pencil, clearly lost in thought.

Figure 2. You need two people to wish upon a wishbone. Perhaps it is not exactly a bone to pick, though I myself have picked at wishbones late on Thanksgiving day.

Both images © 2008 Jupiterimages Corporation.
see also: bone of contention; throw him a bone; like a dog with a bone
cf: dogbone
Last updated: June 21, 2008
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