A skeleton Key

temblor

Senior Member
WU CHINESE
I watched the movie "The Skeleton Key", then I know a skeleton key can be used to unlock all doors. Why did English native speakers call such a stuff "Skeleton key" ? It's nothing to do with "skeleton", my personal thinking. If I am asked to name it, I would say alternative keys or multi-functional keys. Is there any other name for it in modern English?
 
  • cuchuflete

    Senior Member
    EEUU-inglés
    A passkey or master key was called a skeleton key because it contains only the essential structure, with most of the rest of the material filed away. Thus it can fit many locks for which it was not specifically designed. The term has been in use since the late 1700s.
     

    Arrius

    Senior Member
    English, UK
    A passkey or master key was called a skeleton key because it contains only the essential structure, with most of the rest of the material filed away. Thus it can fit many locks for which it was not specifically designed. The term has been in use since the late 1700s.
    The Online Etymological Dictionary confirms this:
    The meaning "bare outline" is first recorded 1607; hence skeleton crew (1778), skeleton key, etc.
    I've heard of a skeleton train service too (which might explain the unpunctuality;)).
     
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