Full Of Piss And Vinegar.Posted: March 25, 2013
I was at a basketball game a few nights ago. Because there were not a lot of other people there, I was able to hear a lot of the talk that went on between the players and coaches. During a time out, I heard one of the coaches talking to his players:
I like the way we are working the game plan. We match up well against these guys, we can win this if we stay with the plan. Keep the energy high. Don’t forget that it helps to be full of piss and vinegar too.
That moment ruined the game for me. Understanding the coach’s reminder about piss and vinegar wasn’t the problem. It is a commonly used phrase. It bothered me that I didn’t know why it became a commonly used phrase.
I don’t want that for you. Why should some inexplicable aphorism rumple your leisure time? To protect you, I’m going to explain why people say it is a good thing to be filled with this odd combination of fluids.
Back in the day of the Pony Express, riders would cover about seventy-five miles per day on horseback. This was dangerous and exhausting work. It was even worse for the horses. This isn’t about horses.
Riders would get nourishment and rest between their runs at home stations. Unfortunately, sanitary kitchen conditions were not what we’d expect today. Food safety was awful in these rural outposts. Riders were often sickened by the food meant to restore and sustain them.
Dishes containing ingredients that had been preserved in vinegar were popular among the riders. Folk lore told them that vinegar killed germs. We now have the science to prove what they believed. So, when a rider told another that he was “full of vinegar” it was a short-hand way of saying that he’d had a nourishing meal that he felt wasn’t going to make him ill because of the vinegar it contained.
If you and I took a car trip today, one of us might ask the other “do you need to “go” before we take off?” Asking that of a Pony Express rider was taboo.
Like drivers on today’s superhighways, Pony Express riders were prone to getting dazed by navigating long stretches of featureless scenery. Also like today’s drivers, dazed and tired riders were often involved in horrific accidents. Unlike today, there were no rest stops that would allow riders to dismount and refresh themselves.
The solution? Hydration. Drinking plenty of water just before a ride helped riders by preventing dehydration. Of equal importance was the focus it brought the riders. As that water was processed, the riders felt exactly what you’d think they’d feel. The modesty of the day would not allow them to relieve the pressure along the side of the trail. The desperate need to void caused riders to have a laser like focus on the horizon, straining to see a hint of their next stop and blessed relief.
Greenhorns learned quickly to never encourage a rider to visit the restroom before departure. Pony Express riders considered doing so no different from wishing that rider an unsafe trip. Doing so was grounds for fisticuffs.
Piss And Vinegar
When a rider was on the horizon, approaching a home station, a call would go out inside that station. The station master would call out “I need one full of piss and vinegar, boys!”
A rider who was full of piss and vinegar was considered ready to go to work. Nourished and feeling just a little edgy due to his steadily filling bladder, he was the best man to climb up on the horse and take the incoming mail bag. He would ride like the wind and had the strength to make it to the next station.
The meaning of the phrase has been lost to time. The figurative need to be full of piss and vinegar has not. We all face times that call for us to find a way to get things done.
Now, you can be that person who gets things done without the distraction of wondering why people say that you’re full of two unpleasant fluids. You’re welcome.