See more synonyms for skeleton on
  1. Anatomy, Zoology. the bones of a human or an animal considered as a whole, together forming the framework of the body.
  2. any of various structures forming a rigid framework in an invertebrate.
  3. an emaciated person or animal.
  4. a supporting framework, as of a leaf, building, or ship.
  5. an outline, as of a literary work: the skeleton of the plot.
  6. something reduced to its essential parts.
  1. of or relating to a skeleton.
  2. like or being a mere framework; reduced to the essential or minimal parts or numbers: a skeleton staff.
  1. 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.
  2. 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 formsskel·e·ton·less, adjectiveskel·e·ton·like, adjective Unabridged Based on the Random House Unabridged Dictionary, © Random House, Inc. 2018

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British Dictionary definitions for skeleton


  1. 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 arthropodsSee also endoskeleton, exoskeleton
  2. informal a very thin emaciated person or animal
  3. the essential framework of any structure, such as a building or leaf, that supports or determines the shape of the rest of the structure
  4. an outline consisting of bare essentialsthe skeleton of a novel
  5. (modifier) US and Canadian reduced to a minimuma skeleton staff
  6. skeleton in the cupboard or US and Canadian skeleton in the closet a scandalous fact or event in the past that is kept secret
Derived Formsskeletal, adjectiveskeletally, adverbskeleton-like, adjective

Word Origin for skeleton

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

Word Origin and History for skeleton

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

skeleton in Medicine


  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.

skeleton 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.
Related formsskeletal adjective
The American Heritage® Science Dictionary Copyright © 2011. Published by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company. All rights reserved.