Earlier Instance of Etymological Myth for "Posh"

Dan Goncharoff thegonch at GMAIL.COM
Mon Sep 12 14:39:32 UTC 2011

I am a little surprised that no one looks to the Hindustani root word
"posh", which commonly means covered, and can also mean cherished.

British military men wearing elaborate non-standard uniforms during
service in India would have been "posh", and might have heard the word
from their servants.


On Mon, Sep 12, 2011 at 7:38 AM, Shapiro, Fred <fred.shapiro at yale.edu> wrote:
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> Sender:       American Dialect Society <ADS-L at LISTSERV.UGA.EDU>
> Poster:       "Shapiro, Fred" <fred.shapiro at YALE.EDU>
> Subject:      Earlier Instance of Etymological Myth for "Posh"
> -------------------------------------------------------------------------------
> I have discovered a pre-1935 occurrence of the "Port Out Starboard Home" etymology.  The Times of India refers to this etymology as the probable one in a children's column in its April 14, 1933 issue (page 23).
> Fred Shapiro
> Editor
> YALE BOOK OF QUOTATIONS (Yale University Press)
> ________________________________________
> From: American Dialect Society [ADS-L at LISTSERV.UGA.EDU] on behalf of Garson O'Toole [adsgarsonotoole at GMAIL.COM]
> Sent: Sunday, September 11, 2011 5:55 PM
> Subject: Etymythology of posh, P. O. S. H.
> The etymythology of the word "posh" (port outbound; starboard home) is
> a very popular example of a false etymology. OED has a 1914 citation
> for the adjective posh, but the earliest cite for the  etymythological
> explanation is much later in 1935.
> OED (December 2006 online) posh, adj.
> Smart, stylish, splendid, luxurious. Also (chiefly Brit.): typical of
> or belonging to the upper class; (affecting to be) superior or
> genteel; ‘snooty’, pretentious.
> 1914    E. C. Vivian Brit. Army from Within v. 86   The cavalryman,
> far more than the infantryman, makes a point of wearing ‘posh’
> clothing on every possible occasion--‘posh’ being a term used to
> designate superior clothing, or articles of attire other than those
> issued by and strictly conforming to regulations.
> The Merriam Webster online FAQ has a discussion of the earliest known
> publication of the fanciful etymology:
> The first appearance of the acronymic origin in print that we know of
> was a letter to the editor of the London Times Literary Supplement of
> 17 October 1935. The writer, an Englishman, wanted to enlighten the
> editors of the Oxford English Dictionary Supplement, who had marked
> its origin obscure; he identified port out, starboard home as "an
> American shipping term describing the best cabins."
> http://www.merriam-webster.com/help/faq/posh.htm
> I have located a 1937 citation that prints a slightly different
> version of the tale and refers to an earlier publication in a
> periodical called "Saint Martin's Review". I do not know when the
> article in "Saint Martin's Review" appeared. Perhaps this information
> might interest list members who have investigated this etymythology.
> Cite: 1937 December 21, The (Daily) Gleaner, Between You & Me:
> Tit-bits Of Current Happenings Reviewed In Daily Sketch by Meddler,
> (NA Page 25),Column 2, December 21, 1937 Kingston, Jamaica.
> (NewspaperArchive)
> I don't think the word "posh" has yet found its way into any standard
> English dictionary, even though it is pretty general use over there.
> The "Saint Martin's Review" is responsible for the following
> derivation of it. "It is said to have come from the custom of opulent
> East Indian Nabobs who, content with nothing but the best, engage
> cabins Port Outside Starboard Homewards." The derivation of a good
> many other words in our language is quite as fantastic.
> I also located a match in a volume that Google Books assigns a 1936
> date. GB in its inscrutable wisdom now claims that there is no match.
> The following information is from electronic records created in July
> 2010. This citation is unverified because the volume was too difficult
> to access on paper or microfilm.
> Title: The Army quarterly, Volumes 33-34
> Authors: Guy Payan Dawnay, Sir Cuthbert Morley Headlam (bart.)
> Publisher: William Clowes & Sons, Ltd., 1936
> Page: 358 (page number from GB snippet display)
> Extracted text:
> ... cushy " from Hindustani is surely well established, and
> conjectures of a Romany source must arise from the similarity of many
> Hindustani and Romany words; while to connect it with " cushion "
> sounds suspiciously like pure fancy. But these derivations are elusive
> things: thus " posh " (stylish, smart) has lately been claimed in the
> Sunday Press both for Suffolk dialect and for Romany, while a third
> correspondent suggests that it is simply the initials of "Port Out
> Starboard Home," indicating the most favoured and expensive side for
> cabins on the way to and from India ; Mr. Partridge adds yet another
> conjecture, a corruption of the Scottish " tosh." Again, "to get his
> goat " may come, ...
> Additional background on this topic is provided at these links:
> Michael Quinion discusses the word posh at World Wide Words here:
> http://www.worldwidewords.org/qa/qa-pos1.htm
> Dave Wilton discusses posh at Word Origins here:
> http://www.wordorigins.org/index.php/more/464/
> Merriam Webster has information in its FAQ:
> http://www.merriam-webster.com/help/faq/posh.htm
> The Phrase Finder website discusses posh here:
> http://www.phrases.org.uk/meanings/port%20out%20starboard%20home.html
> Garson
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