A possible insight into "posh."

Cohen, Gerald Leonard gcohen at MST.EDU
Fri Sep 11 00:29:27 UTC 2009

Might I point out J. Peter Maher's treatment of this term: "Posh." in: Studies in Slang, Part 1 (= Forum Anglicum, 14/I), edited by Gerald Leonard Cohen. Frankfurt am Main: Peter Lang. 1985. pages 64-65.
Maher writes in part: "Everyone familiar with London speech knows that the l of words like milk, I'll, well and such are 'gulped': after vowels the true London accent pronounces l's much like the oo of moon.  When the vowel before the l is an o, the effect is to blend the two together.  No distinct l results.  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.  This 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.'"
I'll skip the rest, but the gist is that Maher (very plausibly, I believe) derives standard 'posh' from 'posh(ed).'
G. Cohen


Original message to American Dialect Society on behalf of Evan Morris, Thu 9/10/2009 6:54 PM:
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Forgive me if this has been discussed here or elsewhere -- I searched
to the best of my ability.<br>
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."<br>
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).<br>
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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.<br>
<pre class="moz-signature" cols="72">--
Evan Morris
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