What does the idiom "cut to the bone" mean?

Are you using the idiom cut to the bone but not sure about its meaning? Using idioms, which are important elements of spoken and written language, in the right place strengthens your language skills. Examine the meaning of the cut to the bone idiom and the situations in which it is used.

Meaning of "cut to the bone"


The idiom “cut to the bone” is a phrase used to refer to a situation in which something has been reduced to its most essential basic components or to the point that it can no longer be reduced further. This phrase is often used to describe a situation in which costs have been greatly reduced or a policy or decision has been taken to its extreme conclusion. This phrase can also be used to describe the extent of a particular injury or wound.


The phrase “cut to the bone” dates back to the mid-1800s. It is likely derived from the literal meaning of the phrase, which is to cut something as deeply as possible. The phrase may also have its origin in the practice of butchers who used to cut meat so that only the bones were left behind. This practice was known as “boning” and may have been the inspiration behind the phrase “cut to the bone”.


The phrase “cut to the bone” is usually used in a negative sense to refer to a situation in which something has been reduced excessively or to the point of being detrimental. It can also be used to refer to situations in which a person or organization has been forced to drastically reduce their spending in order to remain financially viable. The phrase can also be used in a more general sense to refer to any instance in which something has been reduced to its bare essentials.

Example Sentences

  • The company had to cut to the bone in order to remain in business.
  • The budget cuts have resulted in public services being cut to the bone.
  • I'm afraid the wound has been cut to the bone and will need stitches.
  • We need to get back to basics and cut our spending down to the bone.

The meanings of the words in the "cut to the bone" idiom

Beyond the Literal: Figurative Language in Idioms

Idioms often use figurative language to convey a message that is not meant to be taken literally. For instance, the idiom "bite the bullet" means to endure a painful or difficult situation without complaint, while "hold your horses" means to be patient and wait. Other idioms, like "kick the bucket" or "pop your clogs," use euphemisms to talk about death.


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