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“A Bone To Pick” – What does it mean?

The definition of ” A Bone to Pick” is a problem or an issue to be discussed.

Origin of Bone to Pick

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

Many sources state that this expression comes from a dog trying to pick off meat from a bone, and one implication of this idiom is attempting to solve a problematic time-consuming issue.

This is most likely because a dog will often gnaw on a bone for very long periods, even when most meat is gone. This type of use dates back to the 1500s.

The other, more common implication is to try settling a dispute with someone. This use only goes back to the 1800s. It may have developed from earlier use. Alternately, it might come from the idea of two dogs fighting over one bone. The most common apposition is to have a bone to pick with (someone).

Examples of A Bone to Pick

The dialogue below shows two university students arguing over some class notes that one borrowed from the other.

Erica: Hey! I’ve got a bone to pick with you!

Melissa: Why? What’s wrong?

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

Melissa: Why is that a problem?

Erica: For starters, you’re profiting off of my work. Additionally, the professor probably doesn’t mind two students sharing notes but she’d probably be pretty upset with me if she thought I was selling them! I could p0robably get in big trouble for this. I carry all of the risks, and you’re getting all of the benefits.

Melissa: All right, fine. You win. I won’t sell your notes anymore.

The second dialogue shows a mother and daughter arguing about the daughter’s responsibilities.

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

Daughter: What is it?

Mom: You didn’t put the food away from dinner last night. Leaving food out all night increases the possibility of us getting ants! Because of that, I’ll have to ground you.

Daughter: Aw, come on!

Mom: Sorry. You have to learn your lesson.

Additional Examples

This first excerpt is from a news article about professional basketball player, Shaquille O’Neal. He was upset because referees let other players commit fouls on him due to his large size.

Shaq has had a bone to pick with referees during his career because they would let the other players get rough with him down low. At 7-foot-1 and 325 pounds, it became nearly impossible to guard O’Neal without committing a foul. 

The next excerpt is about a man convicted of conspiracy who claims he shouldn’t have gone to prison.

The so-called “Cannibal Cop” has got a bone to pick with the feds. Gilbert Valle — who spent almost two years locked up on charges he was plotting to kidnap, cook and devour women — is planning on filing a lawsuit for wrongful imprisonment, new court filings show. 


The phrase a bone to pick means an argument to settle or an ambivalent issue that must be discussed and solved.

Related: Is it Bear With Me and Bare With Me?

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By Connie Fisher

Connie Fisher is a freelance writer and editor specializing in business writing and marketing. She holds a bachelor's degree in media and journalism and has contributed to a slew of printed and online media, including Contra Costa Times, Daily American, the The Tri-Town News,, and many more.

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