Etymythology of posh, P. O. S. H.

Douglas G. Wilson douglas at NB.NET
Mon Sep 12 02:32:22 UTC 2011

On 9/11/2011 9:51 PM, Laurence Horn wrote:
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> Sender:       American Dialect Society<ADS-L at LISTSERV.UGA.EDU>
> Poster:       Laurence Horn<laurence.horn at YALE.EDU>
> Subject:      Re: Etymythology of posh, P. O. S. H.
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> On Sep 11, 2011, at 9:55 PM, Gerald Cohen wrote:
>> Here's a bibliographical reference for the discussion
>> of P.O.S.H.:
>> J. Peter Maher: "_Posh_". In: _Studies in Slang_, part (= vol.) 1,
>> edited by Gerald Leonard Cohen. Frankfurt am Main: Peter Lang.,
>> 1985, pp. 64-65.
>> Maher discusses and rejects the Port-Out-Starboard-Home etymology and
>> suggests instead: "Everyone familiar with London speech
>> knows that the _l_ of words like _milk_, _I'll_, _well_ and
>> such are 'gulped'... Londoners, in particular the Cockneys,
>> pronounce the verb _to polish_ as _pawsh_, to write it in an American
>> fashion, or _posh_ to give the authentic, if non-standard, British spelling.
>> The verb is fully conjugated: "I, you, we, they _posh_; he, she, it
>> _poshes_; it is, they are _poshed_ types, or live in _posh(ed)_ digs.
>> Maher goes on to derive the adjective _posh_ from this _posh(ed)_,
>> i.e.., ultimately from _polish_."
> With any direct evidence of "polish" used as an adjective, or anyone connecting "posh" with "polish"?  Is "poshed" as in "poshed types/digs" ever attested?  Does even "polished digs" occur in print?   If not, it sounds suspiciously like an alternate etymythology.  The variant-of-"push" and Romany stories sound more plausible to me, if I had to guess.

I considered the Romany story plausible at the time I 'researched' it
(about 9 years ago: I wrote a small divertissement called "Bacronymic
Etymythologies" [with credit to LH for his fine word "etymythology"!]),
and I guess I still do consider it plausible. A hypothesis along the
lines of Maher's, however, seems (to me) somewhat plausible too (with
"posh" [adj.] presumably < "polished").

The trouble is that one can usually develop multiple plausible
hypotheses, and the most plausible-seeming may not be the true one. I
think the value of a plausible hypothesis is only in providing a
direction for inquiry: e.g., nowadays one could search for intermediate
forms as LH noted above.

-- Doug Wilson

The American Dialect Society -

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