Marvellously, this makes a blog post for me as well as for him.
Brian Barder (hat tip to Google) (sorry, that was silly) says:
The politicians and political commentators have a funny-peculiar way of adopting their own patois to describe current events. Thus none of them seems able to describe a decision by the prime minister not to call a general election this year other than as "bottling it", an expression surely unknown to ordinary people outside Westminster. We're familiar with the idea of a person having "plenty of bottle", which I take to mean something like chutzpah, boldness, readiness to take risks: but this latest cliché seems to mean the opposite, namely playing the coward. The OED online recognises the phrase "to bottle out" as meaning "to lose one's nerve; to back out of an action at the last minute, ‘chicken out’. slang", with a few examples dating back to 1979, almost all from journalism, but in recent days the required inclusion of the 'out' with 'bottle' seems to have got mislaid.
Which is good stuff. Reading this, I wondered if there might be some connection to ‘Dutch courage’, the phenomenon by which one becomes braver with the infusion of alcohol – very possibly from a bottle. If so, then ‘bottling it’ would mean that Gordon Brown had sobered up enough to realise that a snap election would be a bad idea. Hmm.
Then I looked at LondonSlang.com, which suggested:
bottle - courage, balls. eg "he lost his bottle", "he bottled out", "he's got a lot of bottle". The most common explanation of this term is that it comes from the Rhyming Slang 'bottle and glass' - 'arse'. ie. To loose ones bottle, to loose ones arse (incontinence produced by fear).
Interesting, but I’m not convinced. The explanation only really hangs together if the first ‘loose’ in that final sentence is a disregarded spelling mistake while the second ‘loose’ is beautifully apt.
And if we’re on rhyming slang, couldn’t there be a ‘bottle of beer’-‘fear’ connection?
At this point, though (and I’m surprised I lasted this long), I lost interest. You could probably Google it if you wanted…
(On the subject of ‘loosing one’s arse’: the German word for diarrhoea, durchfall, literally means ‘through-fall’. Nice.)