lightning in a bottle

Garson O'Toole adsgarsonotoole at GMAIL.COM
Mon Nov 1 13:09:42 UTC 2010

Baseball manager Leo Durocher (Leo the Lip) helped to popularize the
phrase according to a October 6, 1941 report. It was "one of
Durocher's pet expressions" according to the New York Times. More
details when I have a bit more time.

On Mon, Nov 1, 2010 at 7:48 AM, Jonathan Lighter <wuxxmupp2000 at> wrote:
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> Sender:       American Dialect Society <ADS-L at LISTSERV.UGA.EDU>
> Poster:       Jonathan Lighter <wuxxmupp2000 at GMAIL.COM>
> Subject:      lightning in a bottle
> -------------------------------------------------------------------------------
> Not in OED.
> CNN and others claim that the Democrats are "hoping to catch lightning in a
> bottle" by surviving the prophesized [sic] annihilation tomorrow.
> Early exx. on GB seem to refer exclusively and literally to Benjamin
> Franklin's famous kite experiment.  What's a little surpising
> is that the metaphorical phrase, meaning to "do the impossible; beat
> tremendous odds; make a brilliant and unlikely success, etc." took so long
> to become proverbial.
> I haven't been exhaustive, but the earliest GB cite for "caught..." rather
> than "catch..." doesn't occur till 1946:
> 1946 Bob Broeg & Robert Burrill _Don't Bring That Up!_  [N.Y.: A.S. Barnes]
> 243: Garrulous Leo Durocher, to whom words for once came hard, mumbled
> repeatedly, "We caught lightning in a bottle, lightning in a bottle," an
> expression gleaned from the poker table and one that vaguely meant the
> explosive effect of a [snippet ends].
> Had they thought the phrase well known, the authors wouldn't have associated
> it with "the poker table."
> Incredibly to me, NewspaperArchive gives only three exx. of "lightning in a
> bottle," the earliest in 1961.  Chronicling America gives no results at all.
> There are thousands and thousands of recent Google hits.
> Not to be confised with _bottled lightning_, 'powerful alcoholic beverage.'
> JL
> --
> "If the truth is half as bad as I think it is, you can't handle the truth."
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