Make one's bones

To "make one's bones" is an American English idiom meaning to take actions to establish achievement, status, or respect.[1] It is an idiomatic equivalent of "establish[ing] one's bona fides".[2]

Although the idiom appears to have originated in the United States criminal underworld,[2][3] it has since migrated to more popular and less sinister usage;[4][5][6][7] such as discussions of various professions and occupations including law enforcement personnel,[8] the legal profession,[9][10] and journalists.[11]

The idiom was popularized in the 1969 book The Godfather and its 1972 movie adaptation, for instance when Sonny says "I 'made my bones' when I was nineteen, the last time the family had a war", and when Moe Greene says "I'm Moe Greene! I made my bones when you were going out with cheerleaders!"[12] The term was also used in The Sopranos several times. As in these examples, in organized-crime usage the phrase refers to establishing one's credibility by killing someone.[2]


  1. Alice Abel, Kemp; Buczek, Linda (December 2002). "Women Police Officers at NOPD: On the Job" (PDF). Tulane University. p. 8. Archived from the original (PDF) on August 13, 2012. Making your bones refers to establishing yourself as someone who could be counted on, someone who was reliable and trustworthy in all situations; in short, one of the guys.
  2. Rapkin, David P.; William R. Thompson (2013). Transition Scenarios: China and the United States in the Twenty-First Century. University of Chicago Press. p. 4. ISBN 9780226040509. To gain status, they have had to first 'make their bones,' which, in organized crime parlance, is to establish one's bona fides by killing someone.
  3. Milan, Michael (1989). The Squad: The US Government's Secret Alliance with Organized Crime. SP Books. p. 10. After the hit, I acted like a real tough guy about it. I'd made my bones.
  4. Bourdain, Anthony (2000). Kitchen Confidential: Adventures in the Culinary Underbelly. Harper Collins. p. 109. My life improved immediately. The other cooks began addressing me as an equal. ... I had made my bones.
  5. Heller, Ted (2002). Funnymen: A Novel. Simon & Schuster. p. 158. I'm not a hard-hearted man, Teddy. I'm not made of stone. ... Floyd Lomax's band – that's how I made my bones in this business.
  6. Silvester, Christopher (2002). The Grove Book of Hollywood. Grove Press. p. 579. ... John Alonzo ... 'You got me ... I owe it to ya. Made my bones on Chinatown, didn't I?'
  7. Hardy, Greg (May 6, 2010). "The Vault: Hunter S. Thompson, Part III". ESPN. Retrieved May 23, 2018. Since the 1960s, Hunter S. Thompson made his bones by writing about Fear and Loathing when it comes to politics, motorcycle gangs, guns and Las Vegas.
  8. Alice Abel, Kemp; Buczek, Linda (December 2002). "Women Police Officers at NOPD: On the Job" (PDF). Tulane University. p. 8. Archived from the original (PDF) on August 13, 2012. Yes, I enjoyed the reputation of being fair, one of the highest compliments you can get. I made my bones on the street, too, so I could see all sides.
  9. Shannon, Roy. (circa 2005). "The Internal Schism of the National Security Lawyer: Exploring the Fractal Geometry of Ethics, Privilege, and Loyalty". University of the Pacific, McGeorge School of Law. "Worse yet, the Senator himself is an attorney and former Massachusetts prosecutor who made his bones as a 'law and order' Democrat."
  10. Marquis, John (District Attorney, Clatsop County, Oregon) (1996). "The Kittles Case audits Aftermath". Animal Law Review. 2. I have tried about a dozen other murder cases, starting in fact with the one I tried against Jerry Spence in 1985. That is how I have made my bones in the prosecution community, but I still get an enormous amount of flak.CS1 maint: multiple names: authors list (link)
  11. Silk, Mark (Spring 2009). "Family Ties". Religion in the News. Trinity College. 12 (1). Sharlet is a smart guy and a talented long-form journalist who made his bones looking into some of the odder corners of the American religious landscape.
  12. Puzo, Mario. The Godfather. G. P. Putnam's Sons, 1969.
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