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

Garson O'Toole adsgarsonotoole at GMAIL.COM
Tue Sep 13 00:00:42 UTC 2011

Here is a 1919 citation in a Missouri newspaper that is reprinted from
the Manchester Guardian. The article uses the phrases "all poshed up",
"poshing up" and "posh up". It refers to "specklessly polished boots".
There seems to be a strong implicit connection between posh and polish
for the writer of this article. Of course 1919 is a few years after
the earliest cites.

Cite: 1919 November 29, Kansas City Star "Poshed up" and "Kybash"
[from the Manchester Guardian], Page 2, Column 2, Kansas City,
Missouri. (GenealogyBank)

(The phrase "poshing up" yields a match in the online Guardian
database. The original article might be in the November 05, 1919 issue
of the Guardian on page 5.)

(The OED already has "posh" as a verb and the expression "posh up" in
August 1919 with another citation. But I think this newspaper article
is still quite interesting.)

<Begin excerpt. Line spaces added for readability. This was retyped
based on a scan with degraded text. This transcript no doubt contains
errors. Please double-check.>

An enterprising publishing firm has just issued a post-war English
dictionary which professes to contain words that came into use during
the war. It might have saved some perplexity on the part of the
Willesden magistrate who was told by a witness last weekend that a man
in the case was "all poshed up," and that a certain turn of events
"put the kybash on him."

"Poshed up" recalls dreadful things to the demobilized man, for how
many weary hours has he not spent in "poshing up" for parades and
inspections? To "posh up" means, of course, to make oneself look
smart. In civilian life it means specklessly polished boots, starched
collar, neatly pressed trousers, carefully brushed hair, and a shining
morning face.

In the army it meant buckles, buttons and cap badge polished to
distraction, leather equipment with a super-gloss, and well blancoed
haversack and valise (khaki color, of course). And for the man "warned
for guard" behind the lines or in camp at home there was always the
hope that by "poshing up" to the nth degree he might escape duty, the
prize awarded by the inspecting officer to the smartest man paraded.
<End excerpt>


On Mon, Sep 12, 2011 at 12:53 PM, Douglas G. Wilson <douglas at> wrote:
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> Sender:       American Dialect Society <ADS-L at LISTSERV.UGA.EDU>
> Poster:       "Douglas G. Wilson" <douglas at NB.NET>
> Subject:      Re: Etymythology of posh, P. O. S. H.
> -------------------------------------------------------------------------------
> Here is an example with "posh" [noun], "poshy" [adj.] from G-books
> (1915) (this has been quoted by Dave Wilton):
> <<Posh may be defined, very roughly, as a useless striving after
> gentlemanly culture. Sometimes a chauffeur or an H.Q. clerk would
> endeavour to speak very correct English in front of Spot. / "'E was
> poshy, my dear boy, positively poshy. 'E made me shiver until I cried.
> 'Smith, old man,' I said to 'im, 'you can't do it. You're not born to it
> nor bred to it. Those that try is just demeaning themselves. Posh, my
> dear boy, pure Posh.'">>
> I think this item could be adduced to support original "posh" = "polish".
> However one could also imagine this "posh" as derived directly from
> Romany (= "half") (cf. "posh and posh" = "half and half" which was used
> in reference to persons of mixed (half-Romany) ancestry and also to
> speech which mixed English and Romany). In this case it might be
> "halfway between upper and lower class" or something like that.
> And of course the 'default' hypothesis (from "posh" = "money") would
> still be consistent also.
> -- Doug Wilson
> ------------------------------------------------------------
> The American Dialect Society -

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