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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
5

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.")

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7

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
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    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
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    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

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