Re: the expression:

"Full of (piss|pith) and vinegar"

Are both correct/acceptable? Is one preferred?

  • 2
    That sounds like something Bear Grylls would like. – RiMMER Dec 25 '11 at 5:01
  • 1
    Says Grandpa Simpson: "I used to just be full of vinegar." – Joel Brown Dec 25 '11 at 14:59
  • So, is this an eggcorn? – Matt E. Эллен Dec 25 '11 at 18:16
  • "Pith and vinegar" is just a euphemism, IMO. (Unless someone misheard someone with a lisp say, "Piss and vinegar.") – Gnawme Dec 25 '11 at 19:55
  • In Australia we say "Full of piss and bad manners". – Alan Wood May 25 '14 at 9:34

There are no appearances of "pith and vinegar" in COCA.

Plotting an Ngram of "piss and vinegar" against "pith and vinegar" shows a similar result; "pith and vinegar" just isn't there. It doesn't mean that "pith and vinegar" is incorrect; it just means that writers prefer to capture the full flavor of the idiom.

(It appears "piss and vinegar" itself is surprisingly recent origin; this source dates its first appearance in the corpus to 1938, in John Steinbeck's "The Grapes of Wrath.")

enter image description here


The OED lists the piss version only. Also, it's far more common on the web. I've never heard the pith version.

  • 3
    Agreed. This source suggests that the "pith" version was just for the sake of politeness, which I believe. – Lynn Dec 25 '11 at 5:02
  • Thanks for the quick answer. Also, interested in some thoughts about history/etymology. Should I post as a new question or update to this question? – David Weinraub Dec 25 '11 at 5:05
  • 2
    It's an eggcorn, but it's not in the database yet. Be the first to enter it. As for etymology, piss and vinegar are both acidic -- or at least distasteful -- liquids. Since piss is tabu, pith can be used as a euphemism that has the semantic benefit of referring to a mass substance that one can be full of, as well as the phonetic benefit that makes it an eggcorn -- sounding almost the same as the original word. – John Lawler Dec 25 '11 at 5:25
  • 2
    In addition to what John Lawler said, it is conceivable that the expressions "pith and substance" and "pith and marrow" may also have played a minor part in "pith and vinegar" appearing valid. – ShreevatsaR Dec 25 '11 at 7:20

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service, privacy policy and cookie policy

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.