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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).


boneless (comparative more boneless, superlative most boneless)

  1. Without bones, especially as pertaining to meat or poultry prepared for eating.
    • 1906, Upton Sinclair, The Jungle, Chapter 14
      The packers were always originating such schemes—they had what they called "boneless hams," which were all the odds and ends of pork stuffed into casings.
  2. (chiefly Britain, figuratively) Lacking strength, courage, or resolve; spineless.
    • 1916, P. G. Wodehouse, chapter 18, in Uneasy Money:
      I'm scared, I'm just boneless with fright.
    • 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)[1]:
      In his final years he [John Ogdon] gave an interview to an American journalist who noticed that "his handshake is a boneless fadeaway["].

Derived terms[edit]



  • Oxford English Dictionary, 2nd ed., 1989.