Definition of skeleton in English:

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Pronunciation: /ˈskelətn/


1An internal or external framework of bone, cartilage, or other rigid material supporting or containing the body of an animal or plant.
Example sentences
  • Despite the apparent differences produced by an internal versus an external skeleton, the control problems faced by the two groups are formally the same.
  • While human bodies have skeletons of bones, our cells have a framework made of a filamentous network.
  • These forms had two dorsal fins rather than one, and all the fins were supported by an internal skeleton and musculature.
1.1Used in exaggerated reference to a very thin or emaciated person or animal: she was no more than a skeleton at the end
More example sentences
  • 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.
  • 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.
skin and bone
informal bag of bones
1.2The remaining part of something after its life or usefulness is gone: the chapel was stripped to a skeleton of its former self
More example sentences
  • The place was a complete wreck, a skeleton, there was nothing there - it was just gutted.
  • 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.
2The supporting framework, basic structure, or essential part of something: the concrete skeleton of an unfinished building the skeleton of a report
More example sentences
  • The basic skeleton of all languages is grammar, that is structure which, when mastered, enables anything to be said.
  • I saw the movie long back and I just remember the basic skeleton of the story.
  • That structure provides a skeleton of sorts for the ship.
outline, (rough) draft, abstract, (bare) bones
2.1 [as modifier] Denoting the essential or minimum number of people, things, or parts necessary for something: there was only a skeleton staff on duty
More example sentences
  • Many other services operated with skeleton staff.
  • 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.
minimum, minimal, basic;
3 (also skeleton sled) A 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
More example sentences
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • 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.
0.1A 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
More example sentences
  • 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.
  • Skeleton, which is like inverted luge, has not been a medal sport since 1948 and makes its postmodern debut this year in Salt Lake.
  • Both curling and skeleton (you hop on a rectangular plastic ice skate and shoot down a frozen water-slide) are Olympic sports.


skeleton in the closet

A discreditable or embarrassing fact that someone wishes to keep secret.
Example sentences
  • We all have our hidden secrets, our skeletons in the closet, our feelings of guilt; these things weigh on everyone to a degree.
  • When we think of secrets, we think of all those the skeletons in the closet.
  • But she isn't the only one with a skeleton in the closet; Danny is hiding a secret of his own.



Pronunciation: /ˈskelətnˌīz/
Example sentences
  • They can skeletonize a cow in under thirty seconds!
  • I'm now worried that if I'll be skeletonised if I ever fall asleep at my desk.
  • At 7’ overall, the knife is the perfect size for everyday carry, made even easier by weight saved by skeletonizing the handle.


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

  • This is modern Latin, from the Greek skeletos ‘dried up’. The general sense ‘supporting framework’ is found from the mid 17th century.

For editors and proofreaders

Syllabification: skel·e·ton

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