‘vinegar trip’: meanings and origin

The British-English phrase vinegar trip denotes:
– a wasted journey;
– a weird way of behaving;
– a fit of ill temper.

This phrase seems to have originated in Lancashire, a county of north-western England, on the Irish Sea.

The following is from The Dressmaker (London: Gerald Duckworth & Co., Ltd., 1973), a novel set in Liverpool and Lancashire during the Second World War, by the Liverpudlian author Beryl Bainbridge (1932-2010):

They stood for a time in silence. Jack cleared his throat and asked: ‘Is your Aunt Marge behaving herself lately?’
‘It’s Auntie Nellie you want to watch. She’s gone on a vinegar trip.’
His mouth opened in surprise. ‘What’s up, what’s she done?’
‘Auntie Margo says she’s selling the furniture.’
‘She’s what?’
‘There’s things gone from the front room.’
‘What things?’
‘I don’t know. Auntie Margo says a table’s gone and a bit of china.’

Beryl Bainbridge used the phrase again in An Awfully Big Adventure (London: Gerald Duckworth & Co., Ltd., 1989):

After the final curtain-call Bunny came into the prop-room and invited Stella to a little party at the Commercial Hotel. […]
‘You too, George,’ said Bunny.
George wriggled out of it. His missus would go on a vinegar trip if he was late home again.

The phrase was used as the title of a 1973 television comedy written by the Liverpudlian actor and author Kenneth Cope (born 1931), directed by the British television director Brian Mills (1933-2006), and starring the British actor John Barrie (1917-1980). The following is from the Daily Mirror (London, England) of Tuesday 24th April 1973:

John Barrie—remember him as the Victorian detective Sergeant Cork?—appears tonight in Granada’s play VINEGAR TRIP (ITV, 9.0).
The title is taken from a Liverpool saying, “Off on a vinegar trip,” which is applied to a person behaving strangely.
Barrie plays Sammy Chester, a pensioner who shocks his daughters by attempting to become a gay old dog.
Sammy’s cavorting leads to a heart attack.
His eldest daughter takes him to live with her—and calls a family conference to decide what is to be done.
Sammy is far from happy with the arrangements.

Ken Howarth recorded vinegar trip in Sounds Gradely: A Collection of Dialect and Other Words Used in Lancashire Folk Speech (North West Sound Archive, Clitheroe Castle, Lancashire – 1985)—its pronunciation is given in brackets and the last line indicates the place where it was recorded:

VINEGAR-TRIP (vi’ni’ge: trip)
A wasted journey.

The origin of the phrase vinegar trip is unknown. One S. Holt queried whether anyone knew this origin in a letter published in the Liverpool Echo (Liverpool, Merseyside, England) of Tuesday 30th November 1999:

Time trip
After reading Joe Riley’s account of the play Vinegar Trip I remembered that, in my younger days, if someone asked you to do something that was a waste of time you’d say: “You’ve got me on a vinegar trip.” I wonder if anyone knows the origin of the phrase.
S. Holt, Liverpool 9

A certain S. T. Smith proposed the following origin in a letter published in the Liverpool Echo (Liverpool, Merseyside, England) of Friday 3rd December 1999:

History trip
With regards to S Holt’s letter about the term vinegar trip.
This term is yet another Merseyside maritime expression relating to the wine trade from the Mediterranean to Liverpool.
On some occasions when the wine boats arrived in Liverpool the wine was sour and therefore useless, hence vinegar trip being a useless journey.
S. T. Smith, Pensby, Wirral

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