"He Bottled It" Etymology & usage

“He bottled it”, or “he bottled out” is a phrase used in the UK to describe someone backing out of / making a mess out of a situation as in, He could have scored, but he bottled it.

Does anyone know the etymology of this phrase? also how widespread is it’s use. is it just a UK thing or is it used in other locales too?

Cockney rhyming slang: bottle of beer=fear. It’s more used to describe someone failing through lack of nerve than ability: “He was going to get married, but he bottled out at the last second.” Other variants are also used: “You don’t have the bottle.” means “You lack the courage”. Of course, for the full effect you need the gottal stop: “Yeh darn 'ave the bo’ll, son”

That should read glottal stop.

cheers Case Sensitive. Makes perfect sense.

I would dispute the “bottle of beer” (i.e. fear) derivation.

The usual expression is “He’s got a lot of bottle”, which wouldn’t make much sense as “He’s got a lot of fear”.

Cassell’s Dictionary of Slang says it is from rhyming slang, yes, but from “bottle and glass” meaning “arse”. It adds that this is a play on the earlier (18th-century) slang term “bottom”, meaning “character”. So, if you have a lot of bottle then you have a lot of arse, or a lot of bottom, meaning you have a strong character.

This link (scroll down) also backs up the “bottle and glass” explanation, with the added twist that “losing your bottle” might refer to fear-induced incontinence…
I also found this brief post on alt.usage.english.

Thanks Colophon, even if you have muddied the waters!

It is indeed short for bottle and glass - ie arse. So to “lose one’s bottle” is pretty self explanatory. (see also “bricking it”)

“To bottle it” might be a direct translation of ‘faire fiasco’, “used by the French for linguistic errors committed by Italian actors on the 18th-century French stage”. Why italian actors called an error a ‘fiasco’ is unclear, but Anatoly Liberman’s article explores some questionable paths, including:
[li] glassblowers recycling defective glass into common wine flasks (no evidence),[/li][li] bottles hung around necks of miscreants as punishment (but punishment != failure), and[/li][li] ancient onomatopoeia for “flop” (quite speculative).[/li][/ul]

‘bottled it’ to me refers to being able to make a living off if it (as in being able to sell it), this is the first time I have heard of something different.

yes it can mean to have something that you can sell “oi you could bottle that”… meaning a wine/drink/sauce that is good enough to sell well, but extended to anything from bravery to pies.

However context is everything, Albert Steptoe bemones his day as " lookin’ up a 'Orses bottle…" (driving the rag and bone cart), here it means Arse.

You learn something new every day on the SDMB. I know “bottled it” in the captured the essence of, ie success way, and the fucked things up way.

I would like to note that I’ve NEVER heard that phrase over here in the U-S of A but I am always greatful to have something new to say to my British friend when I run into her.

So Cheers, TM’s!

Yes, this most definitely is the meaning of the phrase in the USA.

An interesting case of a phrasal false friend. (Nice alliteration there.)

There are other examples:
“Nervy” (UK) = prone to excessive nervousness and worry, timid and fearful

“Nervy” (USA) = having a lot of nerve, bold, courageous, able to keep a clear head in dangerous circumstances

Excellent. Let me nip this in the bud, and separate it out in a new thread.