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[skel-i-tn] /ˈskɛl ɪ tn/
Anatomy, Zoology. the bones of a human or an animal considered as a whole, together forming the framework of the body.
any of various structures forming a rigid framework in an invertebrate.
an emaciated person or animal.
a supporting framework, as of a leaf, building, or ship.
an outline, as of a literary work:
the skeleton of the plot.
something reduced to its essential parts.
of or relating to a skeleton.
like or being a mere framework; reduced to the essential or minimal parts or numbers:
a skeleton staff.
skeleton at the feast, a person or thing that casts gloom over a joyful occasion; a note or reminder of sorrow in the midst of joy.
skeleton in the closet / cupboard,
  1. a family scandal that is concealed to avoid public disgrace.
  2. any embarrassing, shameful, or damaging secret.
Origin of skeleton
1570-80; < New Latin < Greek: mummy, noun use of neuter of skeletós dried up, verbid of skéllein to dry
Related forms
skeletonless, adjective
skeletonlike, adjective Unabridged
Based on the Random House Dictionary, © Random House, Inc. 2018.
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British Dictionary definitions for skeleton in the closet


a hard framework consisting of inorganic material that supports and protects the soft parts of an animal's body and provides attachment for muscles: may be internal (an endoskeleton), as in vertebrates, or external(an exoskeleton), as in arthropods See also endoskeleton, exoskeleton
(informal) a very thin emaciated person or animal
the essential framework of any structure, such as a building or leaf, that supports or determines the shape of the rest of the structure
an outline consisting of bare essentials: the skeleton of a novel
(modifier) (US & Canadian) reduced to a minimum: a skeleton staff
skeleton in the cupboard, (US & Canadian) skeleton in the closet, a scandalous fact or event in the past that is kept secret
Derived Forms
skeletal, adjective
skeletally, adverb
skeleton-like, adjective
Word Origin
C16: via New Latin from Greek: something desiccated, from skellein to dry up
Collins English Dictionary - Complete & Unabridged 2012 Digital Edition
© William Collins Sons & Co. Ltd. 1979, 1986 © HarperCollins
Publishers 1998, 2000, 2003, 2005, 2006, 2007, 2009, 2012
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Word Origin and History for skeleton in the closet



1570s, from Modern Latin sceleton "bones, bony framework of the body," from Greek skeleton soma "dried-up body, mummy, skeleton," from neuter of skeletos "dried-up" (also, as a noun, "dried body, mummy"), from skellein "dry up, make dry, parch," from PIE root *skele- "to parch, wither" (see sclero-).

Skelton was an early variant form. The noun use of Greek skeletos passed into Late Latin (sceletus), hence French squelette and rare English skelet (1560s), Spanish esqueleto, Italian scheletro. The meaning "bare outline" is first recorded c.1600; hence skeleton crew (1778), skeleton key, etc. Phrase skeleton in the closet "source of secret shame to a person or family" is from 1812.

Online Etymology Dictionary, © 2010 Douglas Harper
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skeleton in the closet in Medicine

skeleton skel·e·ton (skěl'ĭ-tn)

  1. The internal structure composed of bone and cartilage that protects and supports the soft organs, tissues, and other parts of a vertebrate organism; endoskeleton.

  2. All the bones of the body taken collectively.

  3. The exoskeleton.

The American Heritage® Stedman's Medical Dictionary
Copyright © 2002, 2001, 1995 by Houghton Mifflin Company. Published by Houghton Mifflin Company.
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skeleton in the closet in Science

  1. The internal structure of vertebrate animals, composed of bone or cartilage, that supports the body, serves as a framework for the attachment of muscles, and protects the vital organs and associated structures.

  2. A hard protective covering or supporting structure of invertebrate animals. See also endoskeleton, exoskeleton.

skeletal adjective
The American Heritage® Science Dictionary
Copyright © 2002. Published by Houghton Mifflin. All rights reserved.
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skeleton in the closet in Culture

skeleton in the closet definition

A potentially embarrassing secret: “Before nominating the new judge, the committee asked him if he had any skeletons in the closet.”

The New Dictionary of Cultural Literacy, Third Edition
Copyright © 2005 by Houghton Mifflin Company.
Published by Houghton Mifflin Company. All rights reserved.
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Idioms and Phrases with skeleton in the closet

skeleton in the closet

A shameful secret, as in Both her parents were alcoholics; that was the skeleton in her closet. This metaphoric term alludes to a murder victim long concealed in a closet, possibly based on some true incident that is now forgotten. [ Early 1800s ]
The American Heritage® Idioms Dictionary
Copyright © 2002, 2001, 1995 by Houghton Mifflin Company. Published by Houghton Mifflin Company.
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