Bone and horn idle

I'm currently reading Books v. Cigarettes, a collection of essays by George Orwell. In the final essay, 'Such, Such Were the Joys', Orwell writes about his schooldays and recalls his old headmaster saying:

Go on, you little slacker! Go on, you idle, worthless little boy! The whole trouble with you is that you're bone and horn idle. You eat too much, that's why.

'Bone idle' I know, but I've never come across 'bone and horn idle' before. Googling it brings up only three results, one of which is 'Such, Such Were the Joys'!

However one of the other Google results suggests that 'bone and horn' (usually shortened to 'bone') is rhyming slang for 'born'.

That's plausible, but I have one reservation: 'bone' and 'born' are only one vowel sound apart (at least in my non-rhotic accent), so using one to stand in for the other seems a little... pointless.

In all the other examples of rhyming slang that I've come across, the original word and the replacement word are not at all similar-sounding. It must make for a more effective cryptolect, if nothing else.

What do you think?


Fran Hill said...

Looked in my Brewer's Dictionary of Phrase & Fable and it's not in there, and that's usually pretty reliable. I'll try it out on some of the kids when I get back to school tomorrow and let you know what the reaction is ...

Stan said...

Searching for "horn idle" by itself throws up another citation, in the Etymological Dictionary of the Scottish Language by John Jamieson.