Bone of Contention - Meaning, Usage and Origin

Are you arguing with someone over an ideology or topic? If you have a deep-seated argument, and neither of you can seem to agree to terms on the matter or outcome, you might have a "bone of contention" with each other.

In this saying, the "bone" refers to a topic or ideology, and "contention" refers to conflicting viewpoints on the subject. Often, a "bone of contention" will lead to a heated argument or fight as neither party refuses to budge on their position.

Lets' unpack everything you need to know about the history and use of this idiom in modern language.

Bone of Contention – Idiom Meaning

The meaning of "bone of contention" refers to a subject where two or more parties might not see the same side as the other, refusing to give up their position on the issue.

The idiom refers to an unpleasant situation, and it could result in severe arguments that sever relationships between the parties involved in the dispute.

Bone of Contention – Example Usage

There are several examples of using the idiom "bone of contention" in a sentence.

  • Our political ideologies are a bone of contention between us.
  • Our thoughts on the subject are a bone of contention.
  • We seem to have a bone of contention on the subject.

All three examples refer to people refusing to give up their side of the argument, and they fail to see it from the other side.

The parties are stubborn, and they refuse to shift their thought or even consider the argument from the other person's point of view.

Bone of Contention – Origin

The idiom "bone of contention" originates in the 1700s, where two dogs would fight over a bone, with neither animal conceding to the other's need for food.

Both dogs consider they have a right to the bone, and neither would back down on their efforts to wrest it from the other.

Today, a "bone of contention" can refer to many topics. For example, a family may have a deep-seated argument over the rights to their father's estate.

Or, they could have conflicting political ideologies with another person over a specific topic, resulting in a heated argument with neither side willing to consider the other viewpoint on the subject matter.

Phrases Similar to "Bone of Contention"

Here are some similar phrases and synonyms to "bone of contention."

  • "Bone to pick." – In reference to adversely discussing an inflammatory topic with someone.
  • "Grounds for war." – In reference to two parties exhibiting bellicose behavior.
  • "Apple of Discord." – Where the "apple" refers to the "bone."
  • "Point in question." – Referring to the disagreeable subject matter as the point or "bone."

Phrases Opposite to "Bone of Contention"

If you're looking for phrases opposite of "bone of contention," you can use the following phrases in a conversation.

  • We managed to reach a consensus on the subject.
  • We agree with each other.
  • We see each other's points of view.
  • We understand each other's arguments.

What is the Correct Saying?

A bone of contention is not a common phrase in modern language, but many people will use it when discussing the parties' actions to others.

For example, "the family have a bone of contention over the rights to the land mentioned in the will."

The most common use of the phrase is when referring to the following.

  • An argument.
  • A discord between two parties.
  • You are describing behavior between two or more parties over a specific topic or ideology.

Ways People May Say "Bone of Contention" Incorrectly

Since "bone of contention" is not a popular idiom in conversation, many people use it incorrectly.

Having a bone of contention with someone means that you are very upset with them. Generally, it describes an argument where the parties may split ties from one another or escalate the situation to verbal or physical violence.

The phrase is not suitable to describe a minor argument or disagreement with another party. Here are a few examples of how not to use bone of contention.

  • My fiancé and I have a bone of contention about where to spend our honeymoon.
  • My brother and I have a bone of contention over who gets the TV remote.
  • My friend and I have a bone of contention over which movie to watch.

Acceptable Ways to Phrase "Bone of Contention"

There are several ways people can use the idiom "bone of contention" in a sentence when describing behavior between two or more parties.

Here are some further use examples for using "bone of contention" in a sentence.

  • These politicians seem to have a bone of contention on the issue.
  • China and Taiwan have a bone of contention over the sovereign right of the Taiwanese nation.

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