parts of the body idioms: skin and bone(s):

Nguyen Quang Hieu from Vietnam writes:

I've just visited your site recently and found it very, very interesting.

I would like to ask a question about idioms. What does the expression 'to jump out of one's skin' mean?

In English, there are so many idiomatic expressions. Could you please give me some advice on learning them?

Roger Woodham replies:

Idiomatic expressions are like vocabulary items in the sense that they can only be learnt gradually and best of all in context so that you will remember them. Of course, you don't have to use idioms to communicate effectively, but it is useful to be able to recognise them and work out what they mean.

There are dictionaries of idioms and reference books but any good dictionary will list and illustrate idiomatic usage of words after the literal meanings are given. If you want to check to see how good your own dictionary is, look under skin and see what it says.


The dictionary that I consulted listed these idiomatic expressions under skin:

1. skin and bones
by the skin of one's teeth
jump out of one's skin
save one's own skin
get under one's skin
it's no skin off my nose

See if you can match the definitions below with the appropriate idiomatic expression above. They are not in the correct sequence as they appear:

to save yourself from something unpleasant or dangerous
something really irritates or annoys you
extremely thin
you just manage to do something
you are saying how much it surprised or shocked you
it doesn't matter to you at all if something happens


Now study these examples of use to see if you made the right connections:

  • She never puts on any weight whatever she eats. She's a real bean pole. Nothing but skin and bones. (1C)
  • I caught that train by the skin of my teeth. They were already closing the gates when I rushed through. (2D)
  • I almost jumped out of my skin when the gun went off. It was such a loud bang. (3E)
  • When I heard that the police had started arresting the demonstrators, my first instinct was to save my own skin and get away as quickly as possible. (4A)
  • I know you don't get on very well with Jamie - you always seem to be arguing - but don't let him get under your skin. (5B)
  • It's no skin off my nose if Laura decides not to come to Mexico with us. I couldn't care less! (6F)

We have many idiomatic expressions relating to various parts of the body. Let's try a similar activity with bone(s).

My dictionary lists the following 'bone' expressions:

1. bone idle
bone up on something
have a bone to pick with someone
make no bones about doing something
close to the bone
the bare bones of something
work your fingers to the bone

Again, match the definitions below with the appropriate idiomatic expression above:

A. you have something to complain about
B: you are referring to the essential or main facts
C: extremely lazy by nature
D: extremely hard-working
E: something that may be offensive because it is too vulgar or too personal or too painful
F: to do or say something frankly and without hesitation
G: revise or study hard an area of interest


Did you make the right connections? Check to see if you were right:

  • I've asked him five times for that information on the US. But he hasn't lifted a finger so far. He's just bone idle. (1C)
  • I'm going to bone up on the Pacific Rim. There's bound to be a question about it in the geography exam. (2G)
  • I've got a bone to pick with Jim. He gave me the wrong information and when I presented it, it was very embarrassing. (3A)
  • I'll make no bones about it. I think it's a dreadful book and should never have been written. (4F)
  • The song you sang at the charity concert was a bit too close to the bone. There were a lot of children in the audience. (5E)
  • So far you've only given me the bare bones of what happened and I need much more detail to fill the report form out properly. (6B)
  • I've been working my fingers to the bone while you've been out enjoying yourself. Well, that's not good enough. (7D)