A possible insight into "posh."

Laurence Horn laurence.horn at YALE.EDU
Fri Sep 11 00:06:14 UTC 2009

At 7:54 PM -0400 9/10/09, Evan Morris wrote:
>Forgive me if this has been discussed here or elsewhere -- I
>searched to the best of my ability.
>The story that "posh" originated as an acronym for "Port Out,
>Starboard Home" has, of course, been vigorously debunked.  And
>etymologists have, rightly, concentrated on determining the actual
>provenance of "posh."
>But I was walking the dogs late the other night here in East
>Nowhere, Ohio, and had a small revelation as to a possible reason
>for the connection of "posh" to ocean travel in the first place.
>When I was very young, my parents insisted that I take a course in
>rudimentary seamanship before they would allow me to go sailing by
>myself on Long Island Sound.  (It didn't really work -- I damn near
>drowned on one occasion and had to be resuced by the Coast Guard).
>One of the things we learned was the phrase "Red, Right, Return,"
>meaning that it was essential to keep the red channel markers on
>your right (starboard) side when returning to the harbor.  "Port
>Out, Starboard Home" would be exactly equivalent if the implicit
>reference were to the red channel markers, and indeed this very
>phrase seems to be taught in some places -- often in the mnemonic
>acronym "posh" -- to novice sailors.  It seems that this might be
>the "missing link" that inspired a seagoing explanation for "posh"
>in the first place.
Hmmm.  I expect Michael Quinion, author of the eponymous book, will
want to weigh in on this one.  Is there any evidence for the slogan
("Port Out, Starboard Home") having existed before the "acronym" was
attested?  If not, it seems highly dubious, especially since it's not
clear what the safety guide would have to do with the actual
upper-crusty meaning of "posh".


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