What Does Bone of Contention Mean?

Bone of Contention Meaning

Definition: A source of continuing, unsettled disagreement.

This phrase specifies a particular point that no one can agree upon; it is the primary issue of disagreement between two people or two groups of people over an extended period of time.

Some sources list bone alone as meaning the topic of dispute, with of contention being a common modifier. Others list the entire phrase together.

Origin of Bone of Contention

what is the meaning of bone of contentionThe most probable origin of this phrase comes from the idea of two dogs fighting—or contending—over one bone. Neither will give up his position, and the bone is seen as the specific point of arguing. This comes from an earlier phrase, bone of dissension, which was used in the 1500s before coming into its current form in the early 1700s.

An earlier phrase, to find bones in something, which meant to find an objection to something, could be found as early as the Paston letters of 1459. It is possible that bone of contention came from that phrase, as bone in both cases refers to opposition of something.

Examples of Bone of Contention

a bone of contention meansIn the modern day, people use bone of contention to talk about anything that causes disagreement.

For example,

  • Dismantling the family business was a bone of contention for everyone.
  • Decided who did the dishes was a bone of contention in the Smith household.

More Examples

  • Every day there is a new bone of contention, which is cause for some bitter argument, some that cross all lines while taking on the opponent. –Times of India
  • A bone of contention for Riley was that the practice of recruiting student athletes needed to be regulated. –Jamaica Gleaner


The phrase a bone of contention is the subject of an ongoing dispute.