What is the context for using the term "bones" to refer to someone? I have seen that in the original "Star Trek", Kirk calls Dr. McCoy "bones". This word was translated into my native Portuguese as "magro", which means "thin"... and I am not sure if this is the correct translation.

Why does Kirk call Dr. McCoy "bones"?

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    Frank Sinatra, reminiscing on TV about his start in show business, quipped that in the early days the fans would say, "Let's go and see ol' bones down at the Paramount". Evidently this was his nickname, one that alluded to fact he was "all skin and bones" at the start of his career. He looked emaciated and in need of plate of pasta! Commented Oct 27, 2016 at 23:46
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    scifi.stackexchange.com/questions/99672/… Commented Oct 27, 2016 at 23:56
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    @Gnawme fantastic! now it makes sense. Please convert your comment to an answer, so I can accept.
    – Duck
    Commented Oct 27, 2016 at 23:58
  • It can also mean your are thin and have a lack of muscle.
    – user203235
    Commented Oct 28, 2016 at 9:02
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    Possibly worth noting that the Dr. Temperance Brennan character on Bones is not a surgeon, but rather an anthropologist. She receives her nickname due to the fact that she learns about the history of people by studying what remains- generally only their bones.
    – cobaltduck
    Commented Oct 28, 2016 at 14:28

5 Answers 5


Bones in this context is derived from sawbones, slang for a physician or surgeon.

  • Particularly in a naval context, where amputating a shattered limb was commonplace. And there are plenty of pseudo-naval behaviours in Star Trek
    – Chris H
    Commented Oct 28, 2016 at 8:07
  • sawbones (n.): "surgeon," 1837, slang, from verbal phrase; etymonline.com/index.php?term=sawbones
    – user66974
    Commented Oct 28, 2016 at 11:32
  • By the way, in the German dubbed version, his nickname is "Pille" ("pill"), which is a much better fit than the Portuguese version. Commented Oct 28, 2016 at 11:53
  • @MaxRied: Because of Mike Piller? Or something else? Commented Oct 28, 2016 at 17:01
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    In the movie Star Trek (2009), I think they tried to imply that the nickname Bones came from the line, "The ex-wife took the whole damn planet in the divorce; all I've got left is my bones." youtube.com/watch?v=RlphfLO3MYA
    – D. Patrick
    Commented Oct 28, 2016 at 20:10

Before anaesthetics (and antibiotics) were invented, surgery was often rudimentary for fairly obvious reasons. The reputation of a surgeon tended to be based on how quickly he could perform an amputation (I say "he" advisedly since there were no female surgeons at the time.) This involved little more than making the patient as drunk as possible to dull the pain, getting several assistants to hold him (or her) down, and then sawing through the affected limb as quickly as possible to minimise the agony caused. Robert Liston, a noted Victorian surgeon, was said to be able to amputate a leg in two and a half minutes, and once removed a limb in 28 seconds.

For this reason, as has already been said, surgeons and doctors were often called sawbones, and a good one was quick as well as accurate. Doctors were also known as quacks, but this term would have been a gross insult to any surgeon.

Wikipedia: Robert Liston


Actually in the first Star Trek that Abrahms directed, Kirk asked McCoy that question.. his answer was that he had gotten divorced and all he got were the left over "bones" of their marriage. The name stuck.

  • If you could site a source that would be great.
    – tox123
    Commented Oct 29, 2016 at 15:43
  • @D.Patrick posted the link in a comment above.
    – Barmar
    Commented Oct 31, 2016 at 18:42

Usually a shortened version of the slang term "sawbones" which referred to the original surgeons of medicine because they used saws to remove damages limbs from patients. A good 'sawbones' could remove a limb in seconds using a hacksaw, alcohol and some strong assisents to hold the patient down.

  • Can you provide references to support your answer? :)
    – NVZ
    Commented Nov 2, 2016 at 16:29

"Bones," used in this context, is a 'Nickname.' Americans are traditionally fond of the usage of Nicknames.

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