Friday 22 January 2016

When did Aristotle first rhyme with Bottle?

A research week investigating Aristotle’s post-Renaissance cultural presence was intended to reveal dazzling paintings and treatises which would help my bid to become an International Intellectual Historian. What I found instead was a glut of poems in which the great thinker’s name, as pronounced in my Mother Tongue, furnishes a rare convincing rhyme with bottle

I had always assumed this rhyme was first exploited by Eric Idle in Monty Python’s immortal ‘Philosophers’ Song’, ‘Aristotle, Aristotle was a bugger for the bottle, Hobbes was fond of his dram, / And René Descartes was a drunken fart: "I drink, therefore I am".'

Determined nevertheless to use this research to prove my own intellectual credentials, I asked when the assonance of the proper name and the noun meaning liquid container had first been discovered. The earliest certain example I have identified is in Daniel Defoe’s satire The Trueborn Englishman, where he argues that our most significant national characteristic is alcohol consumption:  

         Nor do the Poor alone their Liquor prize,
The Sages join in this great Sacrifice.
The Learned Men who study Aristotle,
Correct him with an Explanation Bottle.

If bottle is derived from the early English noun pottle, however, which means a container holding a portion of something to eat or drink, then Defoe was preceded by a Civil War ballad, with additional cunning internal rhyme prattle/pottle, attested as early as 1650:

Come, come away, to the Taverne I say,
for now at home 'tis washing day,
leave your pritle pratle, and fill us a pottle,
you are not so wise as Aristotle.

Aristotelian logicians will already have noticed that sometimes Aristotle appears in English verses to be equivalent to a bottle (i.e. a boozer) and in others to be presented as somehow antithetical to bottles, as a sober sage. Overall, the latter sense prevails in English poetry. The 18th-century theatre balladeer Charles Dibdin was distinguishing between the learned and the drunk in this forgettable stanza:

         The book-worm hunts the ancient schools,
     And walks with Aristotle;
          Black-legs and ladies hunt for fools,
     The toper hunts his bottle.

Likewise, John Hookham Frere (the great late Georgian translator of Aristophanes), who, in praising British preference for booze over brainpower, courageously implemented at line end an additional terza rima, ‘throttle’:

  The Muses served those Heathens well enough---
     Bold Britons take a Tankard, or a Bottle,
  And when the bottle's out, a pinch of snuff,
     And so proceed in spite of Aristotle---
  Those Rules of his are dry, dogmatic stuff,
         All life and fire they suffocate and throttle--- 

But if we award the prize for best Aristotle/bottle versifier on the criterion of quantity rather than anteriority or quality, there is no question that the winner is an Augustan bard named Edward Ward. He used Aristotle/bottle twice, but daringly once branched out to use prattle as an avant-garde half-rhyme instead. In ‘Delights of the Bottle’ (1720), he claims that ancient philosophers always ‘ow'd their Wisdom to the Bottle, / From Thales, down to Aristotle.’ In  ‘The Merry Travellers’ (1724) he describes a school library converted into a drinking den:

In one dark Nook lay Aristotle,
And by him a huge Brandy Bottle:
Descartes next had place, by whom
Stood that damn'd Devil's Piss, call'd Rum.

Yet, adventurously, in a third ditty, Ward has a cuckolded scholar cry, ‘Damn the old Rules of Aristotle, /And all his Philosophick Prattle.’         

Finally, a crowd-source request to all cockneys. I am told that ‘Aris’ is rhyming ‘double slang’ for ‘arse’. The original gloss for ‘arse’ was ‘bottle and glass’, which  evolved into the abbreviated ‘bottle’. Since, as we have seen, ‘Aristotle’ is the favoured rhyme for ‘bottle’ since 1650, ‘arse’ soon became signified by ‘Aristotle’, later shortened to ‘Aris.’

Despite watching Eastenders regularly, I have never heard this particular locution. I would appreciate information from anybody on any of the topics covered in this blog. The intellectual clout of my book-in-progress on Why Aristotle Matters absolutely depends on such crucial research.

[i] Full text:  Immanuel Kant was a real pissant
Who was very rarely stable.
Heidegger, Heidegger was a boozy beggar
Who could think you under the table.
David Hume could out-consume
Schopenhauer and Hegel,
And Wittgenstein was a beery swine
Who was just as sloshed as Schlegel.
There's nothing Nietzsche couldn't teach ya'
'Bout the raising of the wrist.
John Stuart Mill, of his own free will,
On half a pint of shandy was particularly ill.
Plato, they say, could stick it away;
Half a crate of whiskey every day.
Aristotle, Aristotle was a bugger for the bottle,
Hobbes was fond of his dram,
And Rene Descartes was a drunken fart: "I drink, therefore I am"
Yes, Socrates, himself, is particularly missed;
A lovely little thinker but a bugger when he's pissed!


  1. I have heard 'aris used instead of arse. It was considered more polite (I think). I haven't heard anyone actually use it for a number of years. I come from Wimbledon, I probably heard it when I was a child hanging around the cafe in South Wimbledon my mother used to work when I was a small child. The cafe was frequented by builders, labourers and the odd criminal. The back 'club' room was full of snooker players and old men playing poker.

  2. I first heard aris for arse at' demonstrations outside Wapping, when Murdoch sacked the printers and those journalists who refused his ultimatum to move to Wapping. There was an inspector in charge of the policing of the pickets, whose name was Harris. This amused the printers a great deal. It took me some time to relive why they though it so funny.