Definition of skeleton in English:

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Pronunciation: /ˈskɛlɪt(ə)n/


1An internal or external framework of bone, cartilage, or other rigid material supporting or containing the body of an animal or plant: the human skeleton
More 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 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, stick, scrag
informal bag of bones
Scottish informal skinnymalinky
archaic starveling
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.
framework, basic structure, frame, shell;
outline, draft, abstract, plan, blueprint;
main points, bones, bare bones;
sketch, rough draft
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, smallest possible, basic, reduced;
essential, bare-bones
3 (also skeleton sled) A small toboggan 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.
3.1 [mass noun] 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
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 cupboard

(North American 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: /ˈskɛlɪt(ə)nʌɪz/
(also skeletonise) verb
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

Line breaks: skel|eton

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