What Does Bone to Pick Mean?

Bone to Pick Meaning

Definition: An issue or problem that must be discussed.

Origin of Bone to Pick

Pick has several meanings. One of these is to repeatedly pull at something. This is the sense the word has in this idiom.

Most sources state that this expression comes from a dog trying to pick off the meat from a bone, and one connotation of this idiom is trying to solve a difficult time-consuming problem.

This is likely related to the fact that dogs often gnaw on a bone for very long periods of time, even when most of the meat is gone. This type of usage dates back to the 1500s.

The other, more common connotation is to try to settle a dispute with someone. This usage only goes back to the 1800s. It may have developed from the earlier usage. Alternatively, it might come from the idea of two dogs fighting over a bone. The most common collocation is to have a bone to pick with (someone).

Examples of Bone to Pick

i have a bone to pick with youThe dialogue below shows two university students who are arguing over the notes that one borrowed from the other.

Nisha: Hey! I have a bone to pick with you!

Alan: Why? What’s wrong?

Nisha: You asked to borrow my notes from the English class last year, and I agreed to that. I didn’t agree for you to copy them and start selling them to everyone else in the class.

Alan: Why is that a problem?

Nisha: You’re profiting off of my work. Also, the professor probably doesn’t mind two students sharing notes. However, he’d probably be pretty upset with me if he thought I was selling them! I could get in trouble for this. I carry all of the risk, and you get all of the benefit.

Alan: All right, fine. You win. I’ll stop selling your notes.

to have a bone to pick with someoneThe second dialogue shows a father and son arguing about the son’s responsibilities.

Dad: I’ve got a bone to pick with you.

Son: What is it?

Dad: You didn’t properly clean up last night. By leaving food out all night you increased the possibility of a pest infestation! Because of that, I’m forced to ground you.

Son: No! Come on!

Dad: Sorry. You have to learn your lesson.

More Examples

The excerpt is from an article about a professional basketball player. He was upset that referees let other players commit fouls on him due to his large size.

  • During his career, Shaq had a bone to pick with referees because they would let other players get rough with him down low. At 7-foot-1 and 325 pounds, it became almost impossible to guard O’Neal without committing a foul. –New York Post

This excerpt is about a man convicted of conspiracy who claims he never should have gone to prison.

  • The so-called “Cannibal Cop” has a bone to pick with the feds. Gilberto Valle — who spent almost two years in lockup on charges he was plotting to kidnap, cook and consume women — is planning on filing a lawsuit for wrongful imprisonment, new court filings show. –New York Daily News

Summary

The phrase a bone to pick means a dispute to settle or a contentious issue that must be discussed and solved.

[i]
[i]