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The bones of his ass

Posted: Tue Dec 05, 2017 7:49 pm
by trolley
This one just popped into my head this morning. I heard this expression many times from my father when I was growing up. He had a lot of colourful phrases. When he used this one, it clearly meant that a person was broke or very poor.
“He’s been on the bones of his ass ever since he got fired, last year.”
“Britain was on the bones of her ass after the war”
I was always curious about why it meant destitute. Sometimes, it would be expressed as “the bones of his arse”. Ass and arse were used interchangeably in our house. Someone always “needed a bloody good kick in the arse” (or ass) but, at no time, was a donkey in danger. I can find plenty of examples of “bones of his ass” on the internet but no suggestion of where it comes from. I suppose that if someone was very poor they would be quite emaciated and, without that extra fat in their “glutes”, they would literally be on the bones of their ass when they sat down. That seems like a bit of a stretch, though. I did also find some references to a story in the Quran where God raises some prophet from the dead and then reanimates his donkey with a little god-like magic on “the bones of his ass.” I doubt my dad was quoting the Quran. Does anyone else know anything of this phrase?

Re: The bones of his ass

Posted: Wed Dec 06, 2017 1:57 am
by Erik_Kowal
I've never come across this colourful expression before, but I suspect your emaciation hypothesis may be correct. Not only would one's bottom look emaciated, but without much of a layer of cushioning fat or muscle it would be very uncomfortable to sit for long on a hard surface like a wooden bench.

Re: The bones of his ass

Posted: Sat Dec 09, 2017 9:24 pm
by Bobinwales
It is quite a usual expression here, I use it myself. Always arse though, ass is a donkey, but I have noticed that it is one of the Americanism galloping into UK English.

Re: The bones of his ass

Posted: Sun Dec 10, 2017 1:21 pm
by tony h
Interesting! I imagine there are two things going on here.
The illusion to "having no meat on him" or "all skin and bones" meaning that since losing his job he is wasting away - unclear whether this is from poverty or not eating as a result of depression.

"on his arse" being an indication of indolence.

So, for me, it strikes me as a description of someone who is wasting away with no vision of the opportunity to try and improve his lot. A very sad position to observe.

Re: The bones of his ass

Posted: Tue Dec 12, 2017 6:58 pm
by Phil White
I would have no problem with the "emaciated" explanation.

I had never heard the expression before, but it reminds me of the rather old-fashioned "on his uppers".