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"Bone stock" or "stock" means that a car is unmodified. Where did "bone" come from? Why does it emphasize the condition of being stock?

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Play on the culinary meaning of stock, perhaps? But I have no evidence. –  Peter Taylor Jan 16 '12 at 17:00
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I don't know why, but the words "bone", "stone", and "dead" turn up over and over again meaning "totally, utterly and absolutely" in set phrases. A few might be literal (stone cold) but most are not - stony broke, dead cert, bone idle, and so on. If this has a name, I'd like to know it. –  Kate Gregory Jan 16 '12 at 18:51
    
@Kate Gregory: I'm tempted to say that in the case of dead, one of the key characteristics of the attribute is that something either is or isn't - it's not normally a partial state. As John Cleese was at some pains to point out in the Monty Python "Dead Parrot" sketch. –  FumbleFingers Jan 16 '12 at 20:43
    
@FumbleFingers Medically, 'brain dead' is not really dead. –  Kris Jan 17 '12 at 7:22

6 Answers 6

up vote 6 down vote accepted

It means that the car is entirely stock (no aftermarket parts at all) down to its very core. Note this definition from Merriam-Webster:

bone, noun :

a : essence, core {cut costs to the bone} {a liberal to the bone}

b : the most deeply ingrained part : heart —usually used in plural {knew in his bones that it was wrong}

It's tied in with other bone-related idioms like "close to the bone," "feel something in one's bones," "chilled to the bone," and the like.

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I would think that is might be an abbreviation of "bare-bones stock". –  FrustratedWithFormsDesigner Jan 16 '12 at 18:19
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@FrustratedWithFormsDesigner I hear "bone stock" all the time; I don't think I've ever heard or read "bare bones stock" in all my years of reading car magazines. A Google Ngram on the two phrases seems to bear this out. –  Gnawme Jan 16 '12 at 18:43
    
Wow, thanks for all the great answers. I think this answer is closest to my intuition about the phrase (I have heard and use it). Maybe the idea is that the car is stock all the way down to its bones. That is, the engine, chassis, and suspension are stock. Perhaps back in the day, these components were the first to be modified (unlike today, where the engine and chassis are often last)....? –  B Seven Jan 17 '12 at 4:07
    
People vary how puristic they are about what bone stock really means, but there seems to be a surprising amount of consensus about the basic definition. –  Gnawme Jan 17 '12 at 4:48

Never heard the phrase but my guess would be that it's a combination of 'stock' as in original and 'bare bones' as in the simplest version.

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+1 Excellent insight. –  Kris Jan 17 '12 at 7:23

Not being a petrolhead, I wasn't familiar with this one either, but Google finds over 600K instances, so it's definitely "out there".

My guess is that for an expression like this to gain traction, it's probably picking up on multiple antecedents. Any given person may have their own idea as to why it seems reasonable, causing them to remember and pass it on.

  • Bone stock is a simple base ingredient in the culinary context.

  • A bare-bones computer has only basic components, well-suited to customisation.

  • Bone can mean "very" (bone-tired, bone-idle), and stock can mean "standard".

Those are just the ones I can think of. There may well be others.

EDIT: I just did a bit more googling. It seems bone-stock often refers to a formal "sub-class" in organised stock car racing (like F1, F2, etc., at the higher end of car racing). The key requirement is that it should be standard, as supplied by the manufacturer (thus having "street tyres" is often the limiting factor), but they're often quite powerful vehicles. It's similar with bare-bone computers, which usually have a much more gutsy processor and motherboard than other offerings by the same supplier, so in light of that I think this origin may be more significant than the others (though they of course probably contributed to the computer usage, which I think came first).

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"This isn't right. This isn't even wrong." –  Gnawme Jan 16 '12 at 20:32
    
@Gnawme: Okay, I'm intrigued. Apart from the fact that your answer focusses on the "core" connotations of bone (implicit in my first and third reasons), what's your problem? Do you not accept that "stock phrases" like this can gain currency via multiple rationales? –  FumbleFingers Jan 16 '12 at 20:39
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I was more amused by your culinary reference to "bone stock." Not only does it not answer the question, it (seemingly) doesn't even address the question, hence my trotting out Pauli's quote. I have no problem with your contention, although I think it gives petrolheads (counting myself as one) entirely too much credit. –  Gnawme Jan 16 '12 at 21:02
    
@Gnawme: I live with a professional chef, and he constantly extols the virtues of bone stock as the basis for all his great concoctions (except the deserts!) Perhaps that makes me atypical in giving it much weight, but I do think all these idioms "feed off each other" to a degree. Anyway, per my edit just now, I suspect the computer usage may be central, regardless of how "bone" came to be used in this general area in the first place. –  FumbleFingers Jan 16 '12 at 21:16
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Here is what "bone stock" means to US gearheads (petrolheads to you). –  Gnawme Jan 16 '12 at 21:22

I was hoping a search for "first use in print" on this one might offer some leads. I found the phrase used twice in the July 1973 issue of Hot Rod magazine:

enter image description here

The engine is made up of a bone-stock 302-cubic-inch Z-28 short block coupled. . .

enter image description here

And that was a comparison between bone-stock production-line versions!

However, neither offers any clear indication why bone was suddenly used to modify stock.

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The Ultimate Hot Rod Dictionary: A-Bombs to Zoomies defines bone stock as:

bone stock adj. Strictly and absolutely unmodified from an original state as produced by an automobile manufacturer.

Merriam-Webster defines the adverb bone as:

: extremely, very ; also : totally

Examples of BONE

  • The air is bone dry.
  • < grew up in a backwoods area that was bone poor >

First Known Use of BONE

  • circa 1825

And stock:

6.
a (1) : the equipment, materials, or supplies of an establishment (2) : livestock
b : a store or supply accumulated or available; especially : the inventory of goods of a merchant or manufacturer

So bone (very, extremely) + stock (something from the factory) gives bone stock meaning very stock, something with no modifications whatsoever, whereas stock might have had some minor changes.


As an aside, there's an interesting relation between stock and another use of bones in the hot rod world. Merriam-Webster defines stock car as:

a racing car having the basic chassis of a commercially produced assembly-line model

And if we dip back into the Ultimate Hot Rod Dictionary, we get related definitions:

bones 1. n. Original wood substructure supporting sheetmetal body panels on most mid-1930s and earlier vintage vehicles. 2. n. Any bare automotive frame rails or frame assembly.

boneyard n. Any automobile wrecking yard or commercial dismantler. Traditionally, boneyards were a popular source for parts and components needed to build a hot rod or custom car.

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I would imagine it is for the same reason that people say "brand new", "free gift", or "bare naked".

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