Green’s Dictionary of Slang

bone v.3

also bone up, bone up on
[? SE bone, to polish by the use of a flat bone surface to polish one’s boots to a shine or play on knuckle down; campus uses are influenced by the Bohn translations of the classics, and underpinned by alt. sp. bohn n. in US college c.1900]

(US, orig. milit.) to work hard, to study, to revise; also extended as bone down, bone in, bone through, etc.

T. Winthrop Life in Open Air 148: We was about sick of putty-heads and sneaks that didn’t know enough or didn’t dare to make us stand round and bone in.
[US]Chipman Notes on BartIett 42: Bone, to apply one’s self closely. ‘To bone into it.’ [DA].
[US]H.O. Flipper Colored Cadet at West Point 50: ‘To bone.’ — To study.
[US]Century mag. (N.Y.) June 273: ‘I Suppose you’ll keep up your reading along with your law?’ ‘No [...] I’m going to bone right down to it.’ [DA].
[US]E. Custer Tenting on the Plains (rev. edn 1895) 181: I have known the General to ‘bone up,’ as his West Point phrase expressed it, on the smallest details of some question at issue.
[US]W.C. Gore Student Sl. in Cohen (1997) 4: bone or bohn [Prob. from bone in allusion to the knuckle, cf. knuckle down. Perhaps derived from the name of the publisher Bohn.] 1. vi. To study diligently for a considerable space of time. 2. vt. Thoroughly to prepare a lesson, usually followed by prep. out or up.
[US]E.H. Babbitt ‘College Words and Phrases’ in DN II:i 24: bone, v. To study diligently.
[UK]Lincs. Echo 22 Nov. 2/4: In an article on college slang in the United States [...] ‘to bohn’ [...] is to study hard.
[US]Ade Breaking Into Society (1904) 86: So he tucked back his Cuffs and took a fresh Grip on the World of Trade, and boned like a Turk.
[US]Ade Forty Modern Fables 253: He said he wanted them to stay in of Evenings and Bone hard.
[UK]Farmer & Henley Sl. and Its Analogues (rev. edn) 316/1: bone into it (or bone standing) = to apply oneself closely.
[US]R. Bolwell ‘College Sl. Words And Phrases’ in DN IV:iii 232: bone, v. To study. boner, n. A student of steady application.
[US](con. 1900s) S. Lewis Elmer Gantry 148: After a certain point a man wanted to quit love-making and [...] bone up on his confounded Greek.
[US]W.R. Morse ‘Stanford Expressions’ in AS II:6 275: bone — study hard.
J.A. Shidler ‘More Stanford Expressions’ in ASVII:6 437: If a student gets a ‘smoke-up,’ a notice that he is failing, he starts to ‘bone,’ ‘dryball,’ ‘Phi-bete,’ ‘grind,’ ‘hit the books,’ ‘crack books,’ or ‘dust ’em off,’ which is to study.
[US]H. Miller Tropic of Capricorn (1964) 246: He was [...] always boning up on something, always trying to improve his mind.
[US]W. Pegler 29 Sept. [synd. col.] You will simply have to bone up on your lessons [W&F].
[US]AS XXVI 238: He boned his way through the difficulty.
[US]Lait & Mortimer USA Confidential 105: Tobey’s critics try to make fun of him by pointing out that he frequently gets his quotations mixed up [...] But that is unkind when you consider that he stayed up all night before, boning up on the Bible.
[US]R.L. Scott Tiger in the Sky 105: He’s reached that age when he should have been boning for general long ago, if he’s ever going to be one [HDAS].
[UK]Wodehouse Jeeves in the Offing 5: Adela Cream writes mystery stories. Are you a fan of hers? No? Well, start boning up on them.
[US](con. 1949) J.G. Dunne True Confessions (1979) 156: ‘You been boning up.’ ‘He who is prepared, Tommy, is never surprised.’.
[UK]J. Briskin Too Much Too Soon (1986) 383: Alexander’s already boning up.
[US]S. Morgan Homeboy 165: Not that kitty minded him boning up on his phoniness.
[UK]Guardian Rev. 12 Nov. 7: He had his own horror of speaking lines, due to a heavy stutter, which made him bone up on endless synonyms so he could switch words when stuck on stage.
[US]S. King Finders Keepers (2016) 96: Pete’s math skills weren’t the strongest - it was why he needed that summer course to bone up.