Bones: a lexical excavation of the television show

How — and how often — do the characters use the word 'bones'?


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I have never seen the show Bones, but at some point during The Verge's Hack Week we all got talking about Fox's decade-spanning drama. Specifically we were talking about how there's a character on the show whose nickname is Bones, and that the show is about to begin its 11th season this fall. So of course this got me thinking: "How often do the characters on Bones say the word "bones," and in what ways do they use it?"

The following is a hand-crafted statistical analysis of how — and how often — the two main characters of Bones use the word "bones."

I made the chart by searching for usages of the word in the "scripts" of every episode of Bones. I hesitate with the word "scripts" because these were not official scripts — rather, they were fan-written. (I spot-checked a few and they are, for the most part, pretty accurate.)

As you can see, Seeley Booth (David Boreanaz) dominates the usage of the word "bones" across the entire series — he accounts for 1,867 of the 2,668 total mentions — and almost exclusively uses it to address the character Bones (Emily Deschanel). The few times each season he uses the noun to speak about actual bones all tend to come in one episode, where he gets caught in conversations that practically require him to talk about bones (something he seems wont to do), or when he's telling Bones to go back to examining bones. In fact, he's basically the only character who calls her "Bones" (it is his nickname for her, I guess) except for a handful of instances. Bones herself basically only says the name "Bones" in this context: "Stop calling me Bones!"

Looking at the data in another way, you can see how the frequency changes over the seasons. It peaks in seasons one and four, and trends lower and lower as the series progresses:

Some caveats. For one, manually searching through every script of every episode of Bones was a dizzying affair, so while I stand by the results, I am not willing to bet my life on the exact numbers. What made this problem worse was that, for some inexplicable reason, the "scripts" from seasons six through 10 only sparingly told you who was saying what at any given time. This meant I had to use my powers of deductive reasoning to figure out who was speaking with each mention of "bones." (Luckily, by the sixth season of scripts, I had gotten a hang of the patterns. Temperance "Bones" Brennan rarely mentions her own nickname — mostly because she hates it — and is always the one talking about how the bones need to be cleaned.) I would give the numbers you see a margin of error of +/- 5 for each season's worth of data.

Also, I originally planned to include more individual characters. (Zack Addy, the nerdy assistant to Bones who disappears from the show's plot after a few seasons, very strictly uses the noun and never refers to her as Bones. Bless his heart.) [Ed. Note: I have just been informed by Ross Miller that Zack Addy apparently became some sort of serial cannibalist and I totally didn't realize this.] They wound up being too varied, however, and their individual numbers paled in comparison to the likes of the main characters Booth and Brennan.

A few things I learned from this:

  • Seeley Booth is an asshole. (Also, that name.) Temperance "Bones" Brennan (also, that name) spends a chunk of the first few episodes telling him to stop calling her "Bones" and he completely disregards her wishes — even after they have a kid together.
  • Speaking of that, "reading" through an entire decade's worth of show scripts — regardless of the quality of the show — is emotionally exhausting, even if I don't really know exactly what happened. I went from "will they? won't they?", to Bones and Booth having a baby, to Bones being shot, to Booth being thrown in jail (?), to their relationship being on the rocks — all in the span of a few hours.
  • Making sure the bones are clean is apparently really, really important, as far as I can tell. Brennan reminds the other characters on an almost episodic basis that she cannot do her job unless the bones are clean.
  • If Booth says Bones' name twice in one line, his next line of dialogue will always have him saying Bones one more time. It's a pattern the writers seriously never stray from.
  • According to our rough calculations, and assuming that it takes about a half-second to say the word "bones," a supercut of all the times the word was said would last about 22 minutes. Hey NBC: boy do we have a pitch for you.
  • Bones.