Sticks and Stones May Break My Bones – Meaning, Origin and Usage

Would you like to let someone know that their insults are powerless to hurt you, and that the only thing you’ll flinch for from them is actual, physical injury? The term ‘sticks and stones may break my bones’ is used to imply that their insults don’t matter to you, even though they might. This term unpacks the origin and meaning of this expression.

Meaning

The meaning of the expression ‘sticks and stones may break my bones’ is a common children’s rhyme that is shortened from another, longer saying which is that: “Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will never hurt me.”

The expression is sometimes shortened even further just to the simple term ‘sticks and stones’ where the rest of the meaning is assumed to be known by the rest of the conversation who is party to the reference.

The saying ‘sticks and stones may break my bones’ is usually used as a simple comeback to insults, sometimes in a joking manner.

The meaning of the term is figurative, and it means to say that physical injury is worse than any insult.

The term can be used as a true insult, but the meaning of it is most often used with a hint of humor, or as a jab at a friend.

Example Usage

“When he told me that I was wearing the worst shoes he had ever seen, I let him know that these shoes were from Armani. You know what people say about sticks and stones.”

“I wasn’t going to stand right there and take his insults. Sticks and stones may break my bones. I went home and had three drinks anyway.”

“There’s a lot to be said about insults. Sticks and stones, but insults can still hurt.”

“I responded to him by saying something about sticks and stones, and he just ended up throwing sticks at me. I guess I should have just taken the insult and been done with it.”

Origin

The term ‘sticks and stones’ or the longer version of ‘sticks and stones may break my bones’ comes from a children’s rhyme from the 1800s. The expresssion comes from a 1830 poem that was written by Alexander William Kinglake, and later became popular as a retort to insults on the school playground.

The term would later make it to popular media through wide publication in books and newspapers, even though the original source of the expression is today forgotten by most people who use it.

The term would later rise up again through social media, becoming known on TiKTok platforms and other websites like Facebook through the 2020s. Usually used as a friendly insult, the term is often shortened to ‘sticks and stones’ for shorter use on character-limited platforms.

There are other versions of the term that rhyme other words with ‘sticks and stones’, but the context usually remains the same.

Phrases Similar to Sticks and Stones

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Phrases Opposite to Sticks and Stones

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What is the Correct Saying?

  • Sticks and stones
  • Sticks and stones may break my bones
  • Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words can never hurt me

Ways People May Say Built Sticks and Stones Incorrectly

The term ‘sticks and stones’ can sometimes be used in the wrong way by anyone who does not understand the meaning or the context in which the term has been used.

The term ‘sticks and stones’ can be used to imply that insults do not hurt, and it is most often said in response to one – sometimes as a joke, and sometimes as a serious retort.

Acceptable Ways to Phrase Sticks and Stones

The correct way to use the saying ‘sticks and stones’ is to say that ‘sticks and stones may break my bones’, to say ‘sticks and stones’ or to use the longest form of the expression (and the full, famiilar rhyme).

It is often said as a joke, and often in response to an insult.

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