‘someone’s blood is worth bottling’: meaning and early occurrences

The Australian-English phrase someone’s blood is worth bottling is a statement of praise or admiration.

The image is of a person so valuable that their blood is worth preserving.

The earliest occurrence of the phrase that I have found is from Truth (Perth, Western Australia) of Saturday 15th August 1903:

Some remarks heard at a Boulder football match:—“So-and-So has the walk of a man who steals fowls!” “Go on, Tommy, my boy, you are a boshter 1, your blood is worth bottling!” “O, you waster, you ought to be run over by a mob of goslings!”

1 The noun boshter (i.e., bosker) designates an admirable, highly capable or very attractive person.

The second-earliest occurrence that I have found is from Digger 2 Dialects: A Collection of Slang Phrases used by the Australian Soldiers on Active Service (Melbourne and Sydney: Lothian Book Publishing Company, 1919), by Walter Hubert Downing (1893-1965):

BLOOD’S WORTH BOTTLING—A phrase expressive of admiration.

2 The noun digger designates a soldier, especially a private.

The phrase then occurs in an article about the first Australian issue of Aussie, a magazine that was first published on the Western Front during the First World War—article published in The Sydney Morning Herald (Sydney, New South Wales) of Thursday 22nd April 1920:

Its editor, Mr. Philip Harris, who made the paper in France from start to finish, and who out of his small body produced enough energy and enthusiasm in a difficult job to “make his blood (as he said of somebody else) worth bottling”—its editor explains that he has decided to launch this paper in its homeland, in spite of considerable business difficulties in these times […]. […]
[…]
The history of “Aussie” in France is itself a romance […]. […] Lady M’Ilwraith, of Armidale, by the presentation of a folding machine, secured the grateful devotion of the editor and his staff, one Bill Littleton (nominally attached as batman). Of him ex-Lieutenant Philip Harris says—“He was a tonic. His principal ingredients were an all-conquering zeal and a devil-defying optimism. Bill was always busy and cheerful, and he was versatile. He could patch up a leak in the roof of the editorial dugout with one hand, tie up a bundle of Aussies with the other, smoke an overworked pipe, and sing ‘Mademoiselle from Armentieres’ 3 at the same time. He made office desks and filing systems out of petrol tins and cases and bits of things, and learned to rattle the typewriter as efficiently as he rattled the machine-gun when he was with the Batt. Diggers will best get the strength of how I feel about Bill when I say that his blood is worth bottling.”

 

3 In Soldier and Sailor Words and Phrases (London: George Routledge and Sons, Ltd., 1925), Edward Fraser and John Gibbons explain that Mademoiselle from Armentièreswas the title of a very popular song at the Front, giving extremely personal details of the adventures of an apocryphal young lady of Armentières.”

The following is from the account of a boxing match, published in The Call (Perth, Western Australia) of Friday 11th March 1921:

Last Friday evening the Esplanade Gardens were well filled with spectators to see Jim Nelson and Young Anderson battle for the featherweight championship of Western Australia. […]
[…]
Your blood’s worth bottling, Ginger,” was the cry that met Nelson as he finished up his fourth round with a succession of lightning rights and lefts to the jaw and ribs, which put him far ahead in points and made him look a winner. Anderson had put him in the corner, but on missing was met with this stinging tattoo of blows.

The phrase has often been used punningly with reference to blood donation. For example, the following is from an article titled Blood Donor Crisis: Are People Afraid To Give Blood?, published in The Sydney Morning Herald (Sydney, New South Wales) of Wednesday 7th September 1949:

Sydney is seriously short of blood donors—so short that the N.S.W. Red Cross blood transfusion service is facing the most serious crisis in its history.
[…]
A spokesman of the service says: “Our most urgent need is to make members of the public realise that their blood is worth bottling. Almost every hour of every day in every one of our hospitals, blood donations are needed to save lives.”

Likewise, Your Blood’s Worth Bottling was the title of an article about blood donation, published in The Australian Woman’s Mirror (Sydney, New South Wales) of Wednesday 15th August 1951.

The following photograph and caption appeared in The Argus (Melbourne, Victoria) of Thursday 4th August 1955:

'your blood is worth bottling' - The Argus (Melbourne, Victoria) - 4 August 1955

YOU . . COULD SAVE A LIFE
Royal Melbourne Hospital urgently wants more regular blood donors. So your blood could easily save a life. Pretty Allison May is one of the bank staff who says YOUR blood is worth bottling.

The phrase was also used, in particular, by the Irish author Brendan Behan (1923-1964); for example, in Here’s how history is written, published in Hold your hour and have another (Boston and Toronto: Little, Brown and Company, 1963):

I struck up, to the air of The Rising of the Moon, and with vehemence:
                    ‘They told me, Francis Hinsley,
                     They told me you were hung . . .’
‘Good on you,’ said the old man, his hand on his ear, for fear he’d miss one word.
                    ‘With red protruding eyeballs . . .’
‘More luck to me one son,’ said the old man, in tears of content.
                    ‘ . . . and black protruding tongue.’
‘Ah, your blood’s worth bottling,’ screeched the old man.

Another example—Brendan Behan also used the phrase in Confessions of an Irish Rebel (New York: Lancer Books, Inc., 1965):

I went back to the bar.
“The same again, Michael,” said I, “and a drink for yourself.”
“Thanks,” said Michael.
I threw down the tenner.
“A blue one, bejasus!” said Michael. “Your blood’s worth bottling.”

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