saw·​bones ˈsȯ-ˌbōnz How to pronounce sawbones (audio)
plural sawbones or sawboneses

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Sawbones cut its first literary tooth in Charles Dickens's 1837 novel The Pickwick Papers, when Sam Weller says to Mr. Pickwick, "Don't you know what a sawbones is, sir? … I thought everybody know'd as a sawbones was a surgeon." An evocative term that calls to mind the saws that 19th-century surgeons used to perform amputations, sawbones quickly became an established member of the English language, employed by such authors as H. G. Wells, Mark Twain, and Robert Louis Stevenson. Mercifully, medical technology has improved dramatically since then (the surgical saws used in procedures today are a far cry from the primitive tools of yesteryear), but the word sawbones is still used, often in a humorous context.

Examples of sawbones in a Sentence

a real old-timer who remembers when you could expect a sawbones to make a house call
Recent Examples on the Web Under the Knife 2 continues the story of Dr. Derek Stiles, the brilliant young sawbones from the original game. Earnest Cavalli, WIRED, 1 July 2008

These examples are programmatically compiled from various online sources to illustrate current usage of the word 'sawbones.' Any opinions expressed in the examples do not represent those of Merriam-Webster or its editors. Send us feedback about these examples.

Word History

First Known Use

1837, in the meaning defined above

Time Traveler
The first known use of sawbones was in 1837


Dictionary Entries Near sawbones

Cite this Entry

“Sawbones.” Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, Accessed 4 Oct. 2023.

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