late Old English, "the bony structure of the body; bones of the body collectively," plural of bone (n.). The extended sense of "basic outline or framework" (of a plot, etc.) is from 1888. As a colloquial way to say "dice," it is attested from late 14c. (dice anciently were made from the knucklebones of animals). As a nickname for "a surgeon," it dates to 1887, short for sawbones.
Formerly also "pieces of bone or ivory struck or rattled to accompany music" (1590s; compare marrow-bones and cleavers under cleaver (n.)). Hence the nickname Bones for one of the end-men in a minstrel ensemble.
The figurative phrase make bones about "take exception to, be unable to swallow" (mid-15c.) refers to fish bones found in soup, etc. To feel something in (one's) bones "have a presentiment" is 1867, American English.
updated on October 20, 2022