What Does Bone Up On Something Mean?

Bone Up On Meaning

Definition: To renew, refresh, or master a skill quickly, usually before an important event that requires it.

This phrasal verb means to study, to prepare, or to get well acquainted with a subject through close study.

When an exam, quiz, or presentation is imminent, it is common to bone up on the subject to prepare oneself before being required to know and use them.

Origin of Bone Up On Something

bone up on something meaningThis phrase was originally military academy slang, which we can see through several early examples that are all connected to the U.S. Military Academy in West Point, New York. It has always meant to refine one’s knowledge and may come from the idea that you use a bone to polish leather as you might polish your mind through study.

In O.E. Wood’s 1859 West Point Scrapbook, we can read,

  • Much study,… you call it boning, is quite weary to the flesh.

The first time we see the phrase used in its current incarnation is 1887, in Elizabeth Custer’s Tenting where she refers to an 1860s phrase:

  • I have known the General to “bone up,” as his West Point phrase expressed, on the smallest details of some question at issue.

Examples of Bone Up On Something

meaning of bone up onIn the modern day, people bone up on something when quickly reviewing information they will be required to know.

For example,

  • I boned up on the history of the organization before giving the speech.

This example means that the speaker knew little to nothing about the organization’s history but needed to in a short time.

Here is an example dialogue between two friends,

Jared: How do you think you’ll do on the test?

Steve: I don’t know. I still need to bone up on my math.

More Examples

  • I didn’t ask Tito if he had boned up on Charles Dickens’ “Tale of Two Cities” lately. –Boston Herald
  • Selasi, though still super-chilled, had really boned up on his history and went for studied authenticity on his [Tudor-style] pies. –The Independent


The phrase to bone up on something means to review something you don’t know but will need to know in a short period of time.