12 July 2011


The job of etymologists (not those buggy entomologists) in studying the history of words and their origins and how they have changed over time is not an easy one. Sometimes it seems almost impossible to nail down the definitive origin - as I have discovered in doing this blog.

One word origin I have seen multiple times is for the word, posh.

The story most often given for its origin comes from ship travel. When people went from Britain to India on ships in the early 1900s, it supposedly was an acronym of “Port Out, Starboard Home.” Someone who had a cabin on the port side on the outward trip, and the starboard side on the return trip, would have the sea breeze and be sheltered from the sun on the hottest part of the journey (Suez Canal and the Red Sea).

The posh people were obviously the wealthiest passengers who had POSH stamped on their ticket.

Researchers also point to an earlier reference in an 1892 novel, The Diary of a Nobody which includes a Posh character: “Frank called, but said he could not stop, as he had a friend waiting outside for him, named Murray Posh, adding he was quite a swell.

There's also the phrase from way back in the 16th century - pish posh. The Word Detective says it's just one form of a gentle dismissal. "Pish posh, who cares about word origins. Post something about bands!"

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