35

I was watching a game of snooker the other day and heard one of the commentators say "This player has got more bottle than a milkman" after a particularly good shot. What does this mean and how could it be used in other contexts?

PS. google yields no useful results for this expression.

11
  • 27
    A milkman is a man who delivers milk. He delivers milk in bottles. He delivers a lot of milk to a lot of people, so a milkman has a lot of bottles. This snooker player has even more bottles than a milkman. So the snooker player has a lot of bottle(s). So what you're looking for is not the phrase, but the meaning of bottle either as a technical term in cue games or as a general term of approbation in the dialect of the speaker (presumably BrE). That he said "more bottle", as a mass noun, as opposed to "more bottles" as a count noun, is a hint: it's an adjective, a characteristic.
    – Dan Bron
    Commented Apr 2, 2017 at 14:36
  • 2
    My best guess, without googling [snooker glossary bottle] or [British slang bottle] is that bottle here is used metaphorically to mean "the ability to bottle things up', or "put things in narrow-necked containers", ie. *sink balls into pockets", but I'm not sure if snooker has pockets or is just a carom game. I always forget.
    – Dan Bron
    Commented Apr 2, 2017 at 14:36
  • 11
    @DavidRicherby It was guidance to the OP of how to go about finding such answers, teaching a man to fish. Note that the real answer -- British slang -- was offered as well, along with my original comment helping OP analyze the core of the problem (the word bottle, as opposed to the entire phrase). In other words, my comments were helpful. Was yours?
    – Dan Bron
    Commented Apr 2, 2017 at 17:47
  • 6
    @DanBron for what it's worth, I understood your intent just fine. There's nothing wrong with your comment—that's why it's a comment, after all.
    – user428517
    Commented Apr 3, 2017 at 23:20
  • 4
    To be fair to both sides of the comment kerfluffle, Dan Bron started with a fine (and highly-voted) comment and then followed with a less-highly-voted (and therefore not always visible) comment that indirectly hinted at two Web searches one might try (both useful, as it turns out), along with a wild (and wrong) guess about what the results might be. So there is a lot of good stuff there, as well as something that might be fairly criticized.
    – David K
    Commented Apr 4, 2017 at 14:22

3 Answers 3

96

In this context bottle is probably the informal BrE term for 'nerve' or 'courage'.

British informal mass noun The courage or confidence needed to do something difficult or dangerous.

I lost my bottle completely and ran

ODO, sense 2.

To say that someone has "more bottle than a milkman" is a jocular way of saying that he is very bold: a milkman, who delivers milk to homes, of course has a lot of bottles.

11
  • 3
    Now the real question is, "why" bottle? Must be some cockney rhyming slang. Or maybe it's derived from "to bottle up (=contain) one's courage" EDIT See here: theguardian.com/notesandqueries/query/0,,-200505,00.htm it's italiano! :)
    – Mari-Lou A
    Commented Apr 2, 2017 at 15:13
  • 13
    @Mari-LouA Here's more on the origin of *bottle*='nerve'. Commented Apr 2, 2017 at 17:19
  • 3
    In the same vein, you could also say of someone courageous "they've more balls than a Jane Austen novel". Commented Apr 3, 2017 at 8:47
  • 2
    In BrE, this sense of "bottle" can be an en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Auto-antonym. It can mean "courage, nerve, aggression, will to succeed", etc, or the opposite, in a sentence like "he was winning the competition till the final stage, but then bottled it" - i.e. he lost his nerve, and failed.
    – alephzero
    Commented Apr 3, 2017 at 12:17
  • 2
    Upon reading that "bottle" = "courage", my first thought was that it originated from alcohol, i.e. "liquid courage", such as someone taking a drink before hitting on someone else, or a soldier taking a drink before popping out of a foxhole/bunker/etc to return fire.
    – Doktor J
    Commented Apr 3, 2017 at 21:15
16

It is Cockney rhyming slang, from "bottle and glass", which rhymes with "arse". So it is an inoffensive way of saying "arse", which in this context means "courage" (I'm not quite sure why).

It is common in the phrase "to lose one's bottle": "I lost my bottle completely when I saw the knife in 'is 'and." Any native speaker of British English would understand it (although I don't think they would all know its origin as rhyming slang).

Edited to add: After reading the answers at this link from @StoneyB's comment, I am less certain about this than I was.

6
  • 3
    Stoney's answer explains the obvious milkman / bottle part, whereas yours starts to explain the more obscure cockney derivation of bottle, so I don't know why Stoney's has so many upvotes. The link you give goes on to explain the connection with courage or nerve - the ability to restrain the involuntary bowel-emptying that accompanies extreme fear! I don't know why you're less certain after reading those answers - they mostly confirm your assumption.
    – peterG
    Commented Apr 3, 2017 at 15:45
  • @peterG: specifically, the note quoted from the OED in Andrew Leach's answer ("probably derives from the phrase no bottle").
    – TonyK
    Commented Apr 3, 2017 at 15:59
  • Completely agree with @peter - to have bottle implies that you don't "lose your arse" easily (as suggested by AnonRB, which means that you're courageous. You should be more confident!
    – Tom Fenech
    Commented Apr 4, 2017 at 22:12
  • 1
    The Cockney rhyming slang "bottle and glass" does indeed rhyme with "arse" (in Southern British English). To lose one's bottle means to lose one's arse, ie to be so fearful as to lose control of one's bowels. Related to this is the increasingly popular phrase "squeaky bum time", coined I think by Sir Alex Ferguson, Manchester United manager, meaning a moment when extreme courage is required.
    – Harold
    Commented Nov 16, 2020 at 17:28
  • 1
    @DewiMorgan: Yes. That is the second link in my answer.
    – TonyK
    Commented May 21, 2021 at 20:52
6

It could be that it comes from when beer made by Courage came in bottles. http://aldertons.com/home/slang/

If you want milk, put the Ari on the doorstep. [Every now and again they throw a curve at you. One person has suggested that, not being familiar with Aristotle, early Cockney's might have assumed the name was Harry Stottle! Heard from John Mahony who says that when one uses the expression "lose your bottle" it means to lose the contents of your arse, i.e. "he's shit it", but Ken Caleno says it means to lose your courage (from Courage's bottled beer)]

1
  • 3
    This seems like an interesting insight to the possible etymology of the accepted answer. Commented Apr 3, 2017 at 16:06

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.