A possible insight into "posh."

Laurence Horn laurence.horn at YALE.EDU
Fri Sep 11 00:56:09 UTC 2009

At 7:29 PM -0500 9/10/09, Cohen, Gerald Leonard wrote:
>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
>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

The sources suggested the OED (linked to now obscure words for types
of money) strike me as at least as plausible as any acronymic source
(including the one in the OED which I'd forgotten about--

It is often suggested that the Peninsular & Oriental Steam Navigation
Company stamped tickets for such cabins on this route with the
letters P.O.S.H., whence the word. However, no evidence has been
found for the existence of such tickets.

--which doesn't even seem to get the acronym right, unless there was
a typo as well), or the "polish" source.  And if any of the three
acronymic stories (including Evan's below) were correct, wouldn't we
expect to find the earliest cites in sailing-type contexts, which we


>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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