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illustration of a tee shirt with the words 'all I got was this lousy t-shirt' written on it
figure 1  


throw one a bone. 1. Placate someone, a minor benevolence. Variations are: toss him/her a bone or give him/her a bone to chew on.

Just how minor the benevolence is a matter of context. In chiding President George W. Bush for his commutation of Scooter Libby's prison sentence, columnist Frank Rich characterized it as “throw[ing] a bone to the last grumpy old white guys watching Bill O’Reilly in a bunker.”reference 1 Compared to the conservative ascendance that Karl Rove had predicted but which never arrived, this act was indeed a consolation prize at best.

illustration of a dog on a desk with a bone in its mouth
figure 2  

2. Give someone something inconsequential to keep them occupied.

The condescension is clear. It is a metaphor that both casts the bone chewer not only as a non-person but also as likely to be grateful for the non-opportunity, since chewing on a bone is, by its nature, not terribly nutritious. Just as humans may give a dog a bone to keep it busy, tossing a bone is implicitly the giving of busy work; providing a labor of inconsequential nature. The distinction is clear when, in 2001, NBA star Jason Kidd praised center Todd MacCulloch who had joined him on the Nets: “He's got great hands and it makes the game so much easier when you can trust the big guy, not just throw him a bone but rely on him.”reference 2


1. Rich, Frank. 2007. A Profile in Cowardice. New York Times, Jul 8. Accessed Apr 18 2008 from http:// 2007/ 07/ 08/ opinion/08rich.html.



2. Robbins, Liz. 2001. Qualified Praise from Kidd. New York Times, Oct 26. Accessed Apr 22 2008 from http:// gst/ fullpage.html? res= 9F03E1D71031F935 A15753C1A9679C8B63.

About the illustrations: Figure 1 shows a classic consolation prize, the souvenir t-shirt. Figure 2 shows an ill-treated office worker. © 2008 Jupiterimages Corporation.
see also: bone of contention; bone to pick
cf: like a dog with a bone
Last updated: March 31, 2008
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