"That's a great deal to make one word mean," Alice said in a thoughtful tone. "When I make a word do a lot of work like that," said Humpty Dumpty, "I always pay it extra."

Thursday, 8 March 2012

Do you bottle up your feelings?


A while ago I was set a challenge by Monica to see if the concept of bottled-up feelings was in any way connected with tear bottles. Originating in pre-biblical times, tear bottles were fairly common in Roman times when mourners filled small glass bottles or cups with tears and placed them in burial tombs as symbols of respect. Tear bottles reappeared during the Victorian era when those mourning the loss of loved ones would collect their tears in bottles with special stoppers that allowed the tears to evaporate. When the tears had evaporated, the mourning period was at an end.

Other names for tear bottle were lachrymatory, tear catcher, tear vial, unguentaria, or unguentarium. There are also several less common spellings for lachrymatory, including lachrimatory.

In Matthew Henry's Commentary on the Bible – essential reading in Victorian times – he says of the Verse of the Psalms in which tear bottles are mentioned (Psalm 56:8) - “The tears of God's persecuted people are bottled up and sealed among God's treasures.”

Despite delving quite deeply, both on the web and in my reference books I can come up with no reference to the origin of the term 'to bottle up one's feelings' but surely there must be a connection.


  1. It seems logical to conclude that there is a connection between the two things.
    I had no idea that tear bottles existed - and I wonder how people managed to catch their own tears. With the death of my cat yesterday, I've shed a great many, but I don't think I would have been able to channel them into a bottle.
    Also, this reminds me of the scene in the last Harry Potter book/movie, when Snape dies and urges Harry to catch his tears in a vial, allowing Harry later to see Snape's memories in a Pensieve.

  2. What hits me now is that this must also be something Terry Pratchett had in mind when writing "Snuff" (which I've still not quite finished - listening to it as audio book). Don't think I've come across the word unguentarium before!
    Thanks for looking into my question.

  3. I'm of that particular stubborn strain that if I knew I was going to try and catch my tears in a vial, I wouldn't be able to cry a single one. I suppose I could strap myself to a chair and watch "Little House on the Prairie"... that would work.