the "other" posh

victor steinbok aardvark66 at GMAIL.COM
Mon Sep 12 20:04:40 UTC 2011

Here's something else that's been bugging me about the /other/ posh (n.2 and
n.5). I started writing it in response to an earlier comment on posh adj.
(seemingly quite unrelated, except for the "in extensive Anglo-Indian ...
use" part).


pish-pash (pish-posh) 1834-->1829-->1827?-->1808 (with etymology?)
query concerning origin of posh n.5

Compare the origin of pish-pash/pish-posh (1834-current):

Origin uncertain.

Perhaps a reduplication of pash (compare pash n.1 2b and mishmash n.)
> originating in the nursery: H. Yule and A. C. Burnell /Hobson-Jobson/(1886)
> state that the dish was ‘much used in the Anglo-Indian nursery’. There is no
> evidence to support a suggested Persian etymology.
> orig. and chiefly Anglo-Indian.
>   A soup or stew containing rice and small pieces of meat, esp. chicken.
> 1834    A. Prinsep Baboo II. 85   They found the Secretary‥surrounded with
> huge volumes of Financial Reports on one side, and a small silver tray
> holding a mess of pish~pash on the other.

Then look at posh n.5 (1923-current):

Origin uncertain. Perhaps a variant of bosh n.3 Compare earlier tosh n.2,
> and perhaps also (although these are apparently only recorded in northern
> English regional use) pash n.1, posh n.2...
> colloq.
>   Nonsense, rubbish.

But 1923 is quite late in the Grand Scheme and, given that "nonsense" and
"rubbish" can quite easily serve as simple isolated exclamations in their
own right, let me propose a more than casual connection between these two.
Of course, for that to make any sense, there would have to be a "pish-posh"
use as "rubbish!" sometime between 1834 and 1923. Actually, I have just
Spurs and Skirts. By Allet [pseudonymous]. London: 1862
Chapter 5. p. 69

> Enter Sally Beesom.
> I fancy I see some of my lady-readers toss their heads and give their
> pretty little noses an upward tendency, while I think I hear my male readers
> pish ! posh ! and pshaw! at this announcement, while some of both sexes
> will unite in saying "fancy devoting a whole chapter to a common person!" To
> such however I quote the words used to St Peter in his dream, "What God hath
> cleansed that call not thou common," and beg also to refer them to those
> pretty lines at the heading of this chapter.

The book had attracted attention of the editors of the London Review and
they gave this particular passage wide circulation--despite slamming the
entire work as rubbish.
London Review. 1862
[Review of] Spurs and Skirts. p. 171

> For persons about to read " Spurs and Skirts " we have but one emphatic
> word of advice--Don't. Patiently and conscientiously have we toiled through
> from the beginning to the end of this dreary novel. There has been no
> flinching, no "skipping," and the cup has been drunk to its last dregs. The
> reviewer's weary eye has wandered on from page to page, seeking hopelessly
> for something a little above the dead level of all around, where it might
> for a moment rest. But never was a book written more equal and uniform
> throughout; from its first to its last line it is inflexibly, triumphantly
> dull. It is really difficult to know what to say about a book which has not
> a single merit to redeem it from utter worthlessness.
> ...
> We trust we have said enough to deter any novel-reader from taking up "
> Spurs and Skirts ;" but if some stout, adventurous heart is bent on
> following our footsteps along a sad and dreary road, let him keep an eye
> wary to spy out a "by-the-by" or a "par parenthese," and quickly pass them
> by, for "by-the-by" and "par parenthese " are certain preludes to some
> extravagantly silly remark, fresh from the spring of native imbecility. It
> is only fair to the writer as well as the public that we should not conclude
> this review without giving a specimen of the style of "Spurs and Skirts." We
> shall, therefore, add a very short passage, so happily constructed that it
> bids rampant defiance to the simplest demands of common sense and good
> taste. It is the beginning of a chapter about a servant:--
> "Enter Sally Beasom. I fancy I see some of my lady-readers toss their heads
> and give their pretty little noses an upward tendoncy, whilo I think I hear
> my male readers pish ! posh! pshaw! at this announcement, while some of
> both sexes will unite in saying 'Fancy devoting a whole chapter to a
> common person!' To such, however, I quote the words used to St. Peter in his
> dream, ' What God hath cleansed that call not thou common.' "
> Can the force of watery vulgarity further go ?

Given such wonderful reception, there is little doubt that the book was all
the rage in the reading circles.

Had this been an isolated incident, perhaps there would be no need to make a
case. But there is at least one other:
Juliet. Volume 1. By Juliet [pseud.]. London:1883
Chapter 9. Self-Confessed. pp. 141-2

> "Ha, ha!" he interposed; "I've a mind to keep in your good graces, so I
> vote for intellect and good looks. So do you in your heart. Out with it! Pish
> posh! no red hair and money bags, stumpy figure and grimacing mouth, if a
> man wants to trade on his wife. What's such a woman in Society? A cypher.
> But imagine genius and intellect wedded. Come, Calypso, be honest;
> acknowledge that you award the palm to intellect."

 Not quite the same thing, but another interjection. No doubt this book got
a reception similar to Spurs and Skirts.

And another appearance (a bit later) as "pish-pash":
The Duke's Servants: A Romance. By Sidney Herbert Burchell. Boston: 1899
p. 256

> He would have left Dance there and then. But despite Tom's habitual
> caution—inherited from his early upbringing among seafaring people—his heart
> was moved by the other's vigorous determination; besides, Mabel warmly
> espoused Harold's cause, by merely flashing a glance ot scorn at her lover.
> 'O, that I were a man!' she exclaimed.
> 'Pish-pash! Come back, Master Lincoln!' said her swain good-humouredly.
> 'You must not take me without salt! A lad must think o' his neck.'
> 'I have a tongue to ask the way!'

This three are alliterative, but with both pish-pash and pish-posh versions
and all meaning the same thing, it appears to be more than accidental. The
question is, was the soup name derived from the exclamation or was the
exclamation derived from the soup (or even might the two have coexisted

So, might posh n.5 been derived--quite independently of posh n.2 and
possibly related meanings of pash--from pish-posh, irrespectively of the
origins of pish-posh (possibly from pash? or just alliterative?).

I suppose, I should also offer an argument that the above three are pure
alliterations and have no relation to the Indian soup. Consider the use of
"pish-pash" as more current "mishmash" (or, perhaps, as "hodge-podge", but
that lacks the lumpy, alternating nature of "mishmash"):
The Eclectic Review. Volume 9. New Series. London: May 1842
[Review of] The English Language. By R. G. Latham ... 1841. pp. 533-4

> There is a mongrel tongue in which poets and grammarians have established
> this absurdity, at least in written composition--we mean the modern
> Persian--according to Sir W. Jones and Mr. Lumsden; and an extraordinary
> monstrosity has been the necessary result. Mr. Lumsden tells us, that pieces
> *of Persian *poetry are often written, in which the alternate lines are
> pure Arabic, as to inflections and construction, quite as much as to roots;
> and Sir W. Jones illustrates the heterogeneous pish-pash of their prose,
> by supposing an Englishman to write as follows:--'The vera law naturae is
> recta ratio; quam if any one sequitur, he will attain the highest
> felicitatem given humano kind.' Now, in sober seriousness, we cannot see
> what other result could come of Mr. Latham's principle, if fairly carried
> out.

Maybe they were trying to relate it to soup. Maybe not...

I also have a couple of proper citations for pish-posh n., including one
from 1834--the same year as the earliest OED cite.
The Museum of of Foreign Literature and Science. Volume 25. Philadelphia/New
York: August 1834
Sketches of the Indian Society. The Baba Logie. [From the Asiatic Journal.]
p. 141/1

> The dinner for the children is usually served up at the same time with the
> tiffin placed before the seniors of the family. The young folks sit apart,
> accommodated with low tables, and arm-chairs of corresponding size; and as
> they are usually favourites with all the servants, it is no uncommon thing
> to see the whole /posse/ of khidmutghars desert their master's chairs to
> crowd round those of the /babas/. One of the principal dishes at the
> juvenile board is denominated /pish pash/, weak broth thickened with rice,
> and a fowl pulled to pieces; another, called /dhal baat/, consists of rice
> and yellow peas stewed together; /croquettes/, a delicate preparation of
> chicken, beaten in a mortar, mixed up with fine batter, and fried in
> egg-shaped balls, is also very common; and there is always a /kaaree/.

The Asiatic Journal original is here: (New Series, Vol.
13, No. 49, p. 66. January 1834). Since the date is fixed, it should
antedate the OED citation.

But it should not matter. Here's a full antedating for pish-pash:
The Bengalee: Or, Sketches of Society and Manners in the East. By Henry
Barkley Henderson. London: 1829
p. 385

> But to proceed with my Journal. "At one o'clock, went into the Cuddy, as is
> my daily practice, to watch the little tribe of children at their happy meal
> of this hour; saw them ranged round one end of the table, with a plentiful
> dish of *Pish-pash, *composed of the wonted quantity of rice and fowl,
> mutton broth, and a very mild curry. My young friends were each attended by
> their native servants, and as the Captain, like myself, delights in seeing,
> or rather, in his case, personally superintending their juvenile banquet, it
> is quite amusing to observe their little hungry and healthy appetites,
> earnestly eyeing each his turn to have his plate piled up with the good
> things before him, and then quietly, and in the most orderly manner, making
> the central pyramids of rice, and other such edibles, fast disappear from
> the board.

The journal entry is dated "2nd February, 1828" (as found on p. 382).

Earlier still:

Confessions of an Old Bachelor. Edmund Frederick John Carrington.
London: 1827
p. 344
On the top of this wig is placed a little shallow-crowned hat, something
like a dish appropriated to *pish-pash*.

To make things more interesting, the author does not appear to have ever set
his foot in India. But, no matter. Here is something that suggest Indian
The British Indian Monitor; Or the Antijargonist, Stranger's Guide, Oriental
Linguist, and Various Other Works, Compressed into a Series of Portable
Volumes, on the Hindoostanee Language. Volume 2. By John Borthwick
Gilchrist. Edinburgh: 1808
p. 535

> peechh, gruel, &c. -pachh, a kind of broth, called by Europeans pish-pash!

The following are early recipes for pish-posh/pash.
A New System of Domestic Cookery: Founded upon Principles of Economy. 66th
Edition. By a Lady [Pseud. for Maria Eliza Ketelby Rundell]. London: 1842
Chapter XV. Oriental Cookery. Curry. p. 297

> Take about three pounds of the neck of mutton, boil it until tender;
> prepare a small tea-cupful of rice by bruising it raw in a mortar; then cut
> the meat into small pieces ; throw the rice, meat, and an onion sliced into
> the water in which the meat was boiled, adding a small piece of mace, and a
> few peppercorns tied in a muslin bag; boil till the rice and onions are
> sufficiently done; take out the muslin bag, season with salt, and serve up.
> A chicken may be used instead of the mutton.

The "Oriental Cookery" chapter is completely lacking in an 1840 edition, so
this is likely the earliest version that has these recipes in it (perhaps
there is one in 1841). The same book also mentions Koftah (or Koffta/Kofta)
on the next page--in its most basic form, as is the case here, fried
meatballs served with rice, but it is usually a more elaborate
Middle-Eastern preparation, often adding a bulgur "breading" to the exterior
of the "meatball" and spices to the filling. OED has no entry for Kofta that
*I* could find, but it's possible that it is hiding under an alternative
spelling. "Pish Pash" is also immediately followed by "Country
Captain"--which is mentioned in the OED but could use another citation or
two (in fact, it mentions the dish in the lemma, but has no citations
corresponding to this meaning).
The practical cook, English and foreign. By Joseph Bregion and Anne Miller.
London: 1845
Indian Cookery. p. 327

> PISH POSH.--Take a chicken or fowl, which must be left whole; or neck or
> breast of veal, which boil till tender; have some rice washed, which drain
> off, and crush in a mortar without boiling. Cut up your meat into small
> pieces if you use veal. Put a sliced onion with it, and the rice into the
> water in which the meat or fowl was boiled, adding mace, some pepper-corns,
> and a few cardamoms tied in a muslin bag; boil till the rice and onion are
> sufficiently done; remove the muslin bag. Season with salt, and serve up in
> a deep dish.

This is preceded in the book by a "dry curry" and followed by "pepper pot".

What's interesting here is that OED only rejects the "Persian etymology",
but states nothing of Indian. I suppose, that it might have been derived
from English "pash", but what's the evidence of that? Rice crushed in a
mortar in preparation of the dish? But I digress...

Another citation may even bridge the divide between different meanings of
posh and pash:
The Nineteenth Century. London: February1898
The Permanent Pacification of the Indian Frontier. p. 251

> Next came a policy which was somewhat irreverently termed a policy of
> rupees and pish-pash. Tribes here and there, as the policy directed, were
> heavily subsidised to keep the peace, in the hope that easy circumstances,
> long years of peace, and the creature comforts as well as civilising mediums
> which increased affluence would bring, might gradually sap their martial
> ardour, and make of the hardy mountain warrior a mere shepherd of the hills.
> But again were we unsuccessful; the tribesmen took their subsidies with
> alacrity; but, instead of expending their new-found wealth on ploughs and
> implements of peace, they bought improved fire-arms and ammunition, and
> became not only not more friendly, but in every way more formidable.

Over time, pish-pash has undergone a transformation from a children's table
dish to a "dish for invalids".
Remarks on the Uses of Some of the Bazaar Medicines and Common Medical
Plants of India. 4th Edition. By Edward John Waring. London: 1883

> *425. *Pish-Pash(Puss-Pass).

This is a regular Indian dish for invalids, and consists of fresh meat
> cooked amongst rice. Usually a chicken is cut up into small pieces, put into
> the bottom of a small pan, to which are added three table spoonfuls of rice,
> well cleaned, and over the whole is poured two breakfast cups full of cold
> water. ... (Dr. Aitchison)

It does not seem to be a long stretch to go from "dish for invalids" to
"bowl of nothing" to "rubbish".

Finally, a possible connection between pish-pash and posh n.2:
The popular dictionary in two parts: English and Hindustani, and Hindustani
and English. By Thomas Craven. Lucknow: 1889
p. 68
> Gulatthi, a., soft like pap or pish-pash.

posh n.2:

 1. Eng. regional (north.). Fragments produced by an impact; a soft,
> decayed, rotten, or pulpy mass; a state of slush. Now rare.
>  2. In full posh-ice. Ice broken into small fragments. Cf. brash-ice at
> brash n.2 (b) and porridge ice n. at porridge n. Compounds 2.

The examples are from 1876 to 1898.


On Mon, Sep 12, 2011 at 12:24 PM, victor steinbok <aardvark66 at>wrote:

> "No one" is an overstatement. The trouble with this particular connection
> is that the uniformed military men in India would have been no more or less
> distinguished in the early 1900s than they would have been 50-60 years
> earlier. But Garson skipped the etymological note when quoting the OED
> (which includes the mention of the P.O.S.H. etymythology).
> Here's the note from posh n.1 (money--1830-1905):

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