From Middle English bonles, banles, from Old English bānlēas (“boneless”), from Proto-Germanic *bainalausaz, equivalent to bone + -less. Cognate with Scots baneless (“boneless”), Dutch beenloos (“boneless; legless”), German beinlos (“legless”), Swedish benlös (“boneless”), Icelandic beinlaus (“boneless”).
- Without bones, especially as pertaining to meat or poultry prepared for eating.
- (chiefly Britain, figuratively) Lacking strength, courage, or resolve; spineless.
- 1931, Winston Churchill, House of Commons, 13 May:
- I remember, when I was a child, being taken to the celebrated Barnum's circus, which contained an exhibition of freaks and monstrosities, but the exhibit [...] which I most desired to see was the one described as "The Boneless Wonder." My parents judged that the spectacle would be too revolting and demoralizing for my youthful eyes, and I have waited fifty years to see the boneless wonder sitting on the Treasury Bench.
- 2006, Graham Searjeant, "Loyalty pays off for M&S shareholders", The Times of London, 11 November:
- Had the Green consortium made a straight bid, boneless fund managers would easily have outvoted private investors.
2014 May 11, Ivan Hewett, “Piano Man: a Life of John Ogdon by Charles Beauclerk, review: A new biography of the great British pianist whose own genius destroyed him [print version: A colossus off-key, 10 May 2014, p. R27]”, in The Daily Telegraph (Review):
- In his final years he [John Ogdon] gave an interview to an American journalist who noticed that "his handshake is a boneless fadeaway["].
- Oxford English Dictionary, 2nd ed., 1989.