What does "bone chattering" mean? For example when someone says: "our bone was chattering". I am not talking about teeth chattering.

After, only six Little Fish survive. Me and Siv and Kha and three others, we huddle back at the camp, our bone chattering, waiting for the Kymer Rouge to tell us “good job.”

From the Novel, Never Fall Down By Patricia McCormick

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    Be sure you aren't simply mishearing bone shattering, which is an idiom. Commented Aug 15, 2015 at 11:16
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    @Mari-LouA I should point out that chattering bones isn't unheard of. It even made it into a book title: The Ghost of the Chattering Bones Which I think is suposed to mean the same as teeth chattering, as in impacting and making noise. Makes a lot more sense when the flesh is gone. Commented Aug 15, 2015 at 11:26
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    Are you sure it's not our bones chattering. When teeth and bones chatter, they are usually plural. I'd say using the singular there would be incorrect, and if she did, it is probably a typo. Commented Aug 15, 2015 at 11:56
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    @Mari-Lou: people copying books often mis-type excerpts. Commented Aug 15, 2015 at 11:58
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    I'm voting to close this question as off-topic because it appears to be predicated on a misconception. Commented Aug 15, 2015 at 13:07

3 Answers 3


The narrator of the story is not an English native speaker, but a pre-adolescent Cambodian boy called Arn Chorn-Pond.

He tells us that the weather is cold, we know this because he says: "we huddle back at camp". A phrase that I might have reworded as:

  • we huddled back to (our) camp
  • we huddled back at/to the camp

Similarly, Chorn-Pond misuses the idiomatic expression teeth chattering and says “bone chattering”; it is not without sense because our bodies do shiver in the cold, but we don't hear the noise of our bones "chattering". We hear our teeth knocking against each other.

The correct and idiomatic expression is

  • our teeth chattering

Later in the story the narrator adds:

But they don't pay attention, they only want to talk to themself or maybe sleep. Later, the head guy, he walk past our group; now everyone asleep but me

It is a type of pidgin English, obviously Arn Chorn-Pond has some knowledge of the English language but his speech contains a fair number of grammatical errors in standard English.


Never Fall Down tells the story of the Khmer Rouge and the murderous genocide they wreaked upon their own people of Cambodia. When the Khmer Rouge came to power in 1975, Arn was a nine year old boy living in Battambang, Cambodia with his family

Source: Libris notes

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    I don't think "to huddle back to camp" is right. I'm not sure that huddling has a direction. Even if it does, you could certainly say "We huddled back at camp", meaning. "We huddled - We did so when we were back at camp." Commented Aug 15, 2015 at 12:41
  • @chaslyfromUK yes, I was a little hesitant about that, however within the context of the story "huddling back to a place" seems to make more sense to me then "huddled back at a place". We huddled back at camp, suggests that once the group arrived at their camp, they then felt the cold. Which is very possible. Maybe the narrator was thinking along the lines of "trudging back to camp". I'll think about editing my answer. Thanks for the heads up. :)
    – Mari-Lou A
    Commented Aug 15, 2015 at 12:50
  • @chaslyfromUK if you read the preceding paragraph, it's clear the small group of child soldiers are returning "home" after a battle with the Vietnamese soldiers.
    – Mari-Lou A
    Commented Aug 15, 2015 at 12:56
  • Actually, "we huddle back at the camp" is perfectly good English.
    – Hot Licks
    Commented Aug 15, 2015 at 13:04

Chatter means to talk. A lot.

Chattering teeth metaphorically refers to teeth 'talking' when they bang into each other and make noise, such as when you are shivering because it's cold or scared out of your wits.

Chattering bones metaphorically refers to bones 'talking' when they bang together. This makes more sense on a defleshed skeleton then on a terrified living human but few people let sense stand in the way of a good metaphor.


"Bone chattering", by definition quite simply refers to bones that make a rapid clicking noise by striking together.

I believe you're confusing the chattering of teeth with the chattering of bone. Teeth are commonly misunderstood to be bone.

Dentin, a component of the structure of tooth, is as hard as bone but is not by definition bone:

Human teeth are made up of four different types of tissue: pulp, the innermost part, made up of connective tissue, nerves and blood vessels; dentin, which makes up most of the tooth and is hard as bone; enamel, the hardest tissue in the body; and cementum, which holds the tooth in place within the jawbone.


Teeth but not bones, are known to "chatter":

to make a rapid clicking noise by striking together: His teeth were chattering from the cold.


Though "bone chattering" is a legitimate combination of words, the reader may interpolate it as mistake on writer's part due to the more ubiquitous idiomatic use of "teeth chattering".

  • So if someone was to say "They broke a tooth", I am to presume they are talking about a broken limb? I think not. Bones and teeth are not synonymous
    – Mari-Lou A
    Commented Aug 15, 2015 at 11:17
  • Your answer is clearer now, but according to the OP we're talking about "bones bones", not "teeth bone".
    – Mari-Lou A
    Commented Aug 15, 2015 at 11:22
  • That's exactly my point. The O.P.'s idiomatic use of the term "bone chattering" suggests that bone and teeth are interchangeable or as you put it, synonymous, which they're not. Commented Aug 15, 2015 at 11:23
  • I'm not the OP, bone chattering is the idiomatic expression used by the OP, not by me. I clearly stated they were NOT synonymous. EDIT: Please note my use of "" (scare quotes) to show I understand they are not technical terms.
    – Mari-Lou A
    Commented Aug 15, 2015 at 11:25
  • @Mari-LouA There is no such thing as "teeth bone". Dentin, enamel or any part of the tooth for that matter, can not in any way, by merit of biological nomenclature, be construed as "bone". Commented Aug 15, 2015 at 11:25

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