Definition of skeleton in US English:



  • 1An internal or external framework of bone, cartilage, or other rigid material supporting or containing the body of an animal or plant.

    • ‘The human body has a dynamic framework of bone and cartilage called the skeleton.’
    • ‘While human bodies have skeletons of bones, our cells have a framework made of a filamentous network.’
    • ‘The advantage of an internal skeleton is that it allows the animal to grow much larger than is the case with the arthropod type exoskeleton.’
    • ‘The axial skeleton is rigid and may or may not contact the carapace.’
    • ‘Unlike many fish, which have bony skeletons, shark skeletons are made entirely of cartilage, which grows throughout the animal's life.’
    • ‘Man and most vertebrates are characterized by an internal rather than an external skeleton.’
    • ‘Skeletons Sponges, like all animals, possess some sort of a skeleton that gives their bodies shape.’
    • ‘This fish has a skeleton partly of bone and partly of cartilage.’
    • ‘The calcitic ossicles of crinoids, as is typical of echinoderms, form an internal skeleton that provides support and protection.’
    • ‘Scientists have found skeletons of a human species that grew no larger than a three-year-old modern child.’
    • ‘As bone after bone is added, the skeleton begins to take shape.’
    • ‘Years ago we realized that if we combined all our accidents, there was hardly a bone in the human skeleton we hadn't broken.’
    • ‘Despite the apparent differences produced by an internal versus an external skeleton, the control problems faced by the two groups are formally the same.’
    • ‘Without an internal skeleton, it has to propel itself across the seafloor with bands of minute, hydraulically powered tube feet.’
    • ‘He believes their canine teeth would have caused little damage to a hominid skeleton.’
    • ‘These forms had two dorsal fins rather than one, and all the fins were supported by an internal skeleton and musculature.’
    • ‘The researchers found no separated bones or partial skeletons, which suggests that the dinosaurs were rapidly entombed while still alive.’
    • ‘Tadpoles have no jaws, lungs or eyelids, and possess a skeleton of cartilage.’
    • ‘Lobsters are considered crustaceans, which means that they have a hard external skeleton or exoskeleton.’
    • ‘At about thirty years of age, the human skeleton is as heavy and strong as it will ever get.’
    1. 1.1 Used in exaggerated reference to a very thin or emaciated person or animal.
      ‘she was no more than a skeleton at the end’
      • ‘His tattered clothes hung loosely on his pale and thin skeleton as he thrust three bottles of scotch to the side.’
      • ‘The next man seemed to be a skeleton, and his voice was just as thin.’
      • ‘I was only 5 when I first saw it and for years just couldn't comprehend that the emaciated distressed skeletons shown were actually people.’
      • ‘Being already a thin child when she lost weight she became like a skeleton and as pale as the pure driven snow.’
      skin and bone, stick, scrag
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    2. 1.2 The remaining part of something after its life or usefulness is gone.
      ‘the chapel was stripped to a skeleton of its former self’
      • ‘The words of a former owner still haunt Cappielow, and particularly the shell of the Cowshed, as the stand sits skeleton - like, waiting for the investment that never came.’
      • ‘On either side the rusting skeletons of dead trucks lined the route like a line of memento mori.’
      • ‘The structure was reduced to a charred skeleton and had to be demolished, prompting a campaign to restore the rundown Victorian public gardens.’
      • ‘The place was a complete wreck, a skeleton, there was nothing there - it was just gutted.’
      wreck, debris, detritus, remainder
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  • 2The supporting framework, basic structure, or essential part of something.

    ‘the concrete skeleton of an unfinished building’
    ‘the skeleton of a report’
    • ‘The basic skeleton of all languages is grammar, that is structure which, when mastered, enables anything to be said.’
    • ‘Building has begun in earnest on the metal skeleton for the northern section of Manchester's new-look Arndale shopping centre.’
    • ‘The first step is to cut through the gloss you will find in ‘every thing is beautiful’ brochures and get down to the bare skeleton structure of what is being offered.’
    • ‘The white concrete skeleton of the new stand is developing while business, with some difficulty, goes on around.’
    • ‘The steel skeleton is stabilised by the spiralling ramps and by a concrete lift and stair tower on the west side overlooking the main entrance to the zoo.’
    • ‘That structure provides a skeleton of sorts for the ship.’
    • ‘Sheltered by an undulating copper canopy on a wooden skeleton, the garden's form and content celebrates life's diversity.’
    • ‘Let's start with this skeleton, containing a basic title section.’
    • ‘The studio was made with a skeleton of built-up wood frames within a skin of galvanized metal.’
    • ‘I saw the movie long back and I just remember the basic skeleton of the story.’
    • ‘I have the basic skeleton, but other than that I am still trying to figure things out.’
    framework, basic structure, frame, shell
    outline, draft, abstract, plan, blueprint
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    1. 2.1as modifier Denoting the essential or minimum number of people, things, or parts necessary for something.
      ‘there was only a skeleton staff on duty’
      • ‘Many other services operated with skeleton staff.’
      • ‘Many schools in major centres were either closed, virtually deserted or operating on skeleton staff.’
      • ‘Jobcentres and benefit offices in York were operating with a skeleton staff today as workers began 48-hour strike action in an increasingly bitter pay dispute.’
      • ‘The strike hit most public services, forcing hospitals to stay open with skeleton staff and closing down schools.’
      • ‘Operations are still being run by a skeleton staff of six, but many other employees have already found new jobs with the support of Appleby Heritage Centre.’
      • ‘Hospital services were disrupted and a skeleton staff left to operate the casualty and emergency departments.’
      • ‘Council offices reduced to skeleton staff manning because most of the people are sleeping off the previous night's counting.’
      • ‘It is in the municipalities and corporations the health service finds it difficult to operate with skeleton staff.’
      • ‘The US company seems to have a skeleton staff at the moment.’
      • ‘Many elderly parents will have to struggle to care for their severely disabled adult children at home while the residential centres operate on a skeleton service.’
      • ‘But there is only a skeleton staff to keep it going in the face of £500-a-day running costs and shrinking finances for day-to-day bills.’
      • ‘Many local services remain either closed or on skeleton service.’
      • ‘Both schools have remained open, operating with skeleton staff.’
      • ‘Five landfill sites will be open, but with skeleton staff only.’
      • ‘The service never shuts down, and even on Christmas Day a skeleton staff is on duty.’
      • ‘If a strike had gone ahead, the action would have left the city with only a skeleton bus service operating from three of York's Park & Ride sites today.’
      • ‘Most international organizations have already sent their staff out of the region, while a few are still working with skeleton staffs only.’
      • ‘Samwu said that it had a local agreement in place for a skeleton staff to maintain essential services, but this had not been ratified at a national level.’
      • ‘Non-essential High Commission workers are leaving, with just a skeleton staff of 40 left to man Britain's biggest overseas mission.’
      • ‘The State Department was operating a skeleton staff.’
      minimum, minimal, smallest possible, basic, reduced
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  • 3A small sled for one person, ridden head first while lying in a prone position.

    ‘the skeleton's runners make a terrifying rumbling sound as they slide down the ice’
    ‘she can hit 70+ mph on her skeleton sled’
    • ‘He relives it each time he slides head first down an ice track on his skeleton sled, his chin a mere two inches off the ice.’
    • ‘These athletes have had to adjust to being forced with G-factors around the bends of the course that are 3 or 4 G, and staying with the Skeleton sled to the bottom.’
    • ‘Bob skeleton is where a sport where athletes race down a sloped ice track on a small sled (i.e. a 'skeleton').’
    • ‘Jackson expects to eventually find himself in the back seat of a Tomcat roaring through the sky at speeds many times faster than a skeleton sled travels.’
    • ‘They ride the older-style toboggans - known as skeletons - which have a sliding platform on top that allows a rider to shift his weight back and forth for extra control.’
    • ‘One evening at the Olympic Park, I bump into Lincoln DeWitt, who until 1997 couldn't tell you the difference between a skeleton sled and a Flexible Flyer.’
    • ‘Skeletons do not have any brakes or suspension and with top speeds exceeding 80 mph, this is not a sport for the timid.’
    1. 3.1 A sport in which a competitor races down a frozen track on a skeleton sled.
      ‘the former heptathlete took up skeleton in 2010’
      as modifier ‘the Canadian men's skeleton team’
      • ‘The Olympic athlete celebrated his gold-medal win in skeleton by walking through Whistler Village with a pitcher of beer in hand.’
      • ‘Both curling and skeleton (you hop on a rectangular plastic ice skate and shoot down a frozen water-slide) are Olympic sports.’
      • ‘After attending a Girls4Gold programme aimed at identifying future Olympic athletes she was told she was suited to the skeleton.’
      • ‘The Winter Olympics feature events such as the skeleton, the bobsleigh and snowboarding, as well as traditional winter sports such as ice skating, skiing and curling.’
      • ‘Alexander Tretiakov sealed Russia's first Olympic gold in skeleton.’
      • ‘He'll be joined in skeleton by first-time Olympic athlete Katharine Eustace who finished her qualification season with strong performances.’
      • ‘Skeleton, which is like inverted luge, has not been a medal sport since 1948 and makes its postmodern debut this year in Salt Lake.’
      • ‘Fifteen athletes have been named to the New Zealand Olympic Winter Team in snowboard, freeski, alpine skiing, ice speed skating and skeleton.’
      • ‘There's a number of sports on the Winter Olympic program that are largely unknown to many Australians, sports like the Skeleton, Biathlon, and Curling.’
      • ‘The show will see a slew of stars attempt various Winter Olympic sports such as bobsleighing, slalom skiing and skeleton.’


  • skeleton in the closet

    • A discreditable or embarrassing fact that someone wishes to keep secret.

      • ‘Brooke had some dirty laundry and some skeletons in the closet that she would not have liked brought to light, but she rarely tried to persecute others through her own misdeeds.’
      • ‘Most adults, whether in jail or not, have skeletons in the closet.’
      • ‘We all have our hidden secrets, our skeletons in the closet, our feelings of guilt; these things weigh on everyone to a degree.’
      • ‘First and foremost is that there should not be any skeletons in the cupboard.’
      • ‘But she isn't the only one with a skeleton in the closet; Danny is hiding a secret of his own.’
      • ‘When we think of secrets, we think of all those the skeletons in the closet.’
      • ‘People say you don't go very far back before you find some skeletons in the closet but what I found out about my great great grandfather hit me quite hard.’
      • ‘It is the skeleton in the closet, the Pandora's box yet unopened.’
      • ‘The couple, devout Catholics, don't seem to have any skeletons in the closet, until the police dig deeper.’
      • ‘By keeping the skeletons in the cupboard, the city's face is saved.’


Late 16th century: modern Latin, from Greek, neuter of skeletos ‘dried up’, from skellein ‘dry up’.