lightning in a bottle

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Originally (19th century) a literal reference to Benjamin Franklin’s kite experiment, capturing electricity from lightning and storing it in a Leyden jar, along with variants such as bottled lightning.[1]

Later used in baseball context in sense “difficult feat”, from circa 1941, attributed to Leo Durocher.[2] Wider use grew in 1980s and 1990s, particularly in sense “great, fleeting success”, and popular since 2000s.[2]


  • (file)


lightning in a bottle (uncountable)

  1. (idiomatic) A difficult or challenging feat, particularly to attempt such a feat.
    • 1941, Nevada State Journal, 8 October 1941:[2]
      The Yanks were the dominant team throughout, outhitting, outfielding, outpitching and outmaneuvering the Dodgers. Brooklyn was not outgamed but the Dodgers, to use Lippy Leo Durocher’s favorite expression, went out to try to catch lightning in a bottle.
    • 1992, Herbert F. Crehan, Lightning in a Bottle: The Sox of ’67:
      Their fate remained in doubt until the very last game of the season. This truly was a team that captured lightning in a bottle.
  2. (idiomatic) Great, unlikely, fleeting success, particularly entrepreneurial or in the media.
  3. (idiomatic) Ephemeral state or atmosphere, as at a startup company or artistic group.
  4. Used other than figuratively or idiomatically: see lightning,‎ bottle.

Usage notes[edit]

Most often used in the verb phrase “try to catch lightning in a bottle” or variants, like “capture”.


See also[edit]


  1. ^ bottled lightning is also used idiomatically to mean “liquor”.
  2. 2.0 2.1 2.2 Michael Quinion (4 December 2004), “Lightning in a bottle”, in World Wide Words.
  • The Shocking Stories Behind Lightning in a Bottle and Other Idioms, Arnold Ringstad, 2012, Childs World Incorporated, →ISBN