- (idiomatic) A difficult or challenging feat, particularly to attempt such a feat.
- (idiomatic) Great, unlikely, fleeting success, particularly entrepreneurial or media.
- (idiomatic) Ephemeral state or atmosphere, as at startup company or artistic group.
- 1867, Harper’s New Monthly Magazine, Volume 34, p. 128:
- But they say Franklin succeeded in putting 'lightning in a bottle and corking it.” “Oh yes Sir; I have often seen what they called ‘bottled lightning’ down in Jersey, but I believe it has never been successfully used in telegraphing!”
Most often used in verb phrase “try to catch lightning in a bottle” or variants, like “capture”, though also used alone as noun phrase.
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. Later used in baseball context in sense “difficult feat”, from circa 1941, attributed to Leo Durocher. Wider use grew in 1980s and 1990s, particularly in sense “great, fleeting success”, and popular since 2000s.