A possible insight into "posh."

Dave Wilton dave at WILTON.NET
Fri Sep 11 14:01:53 UTC 2009

I'm not sure you need a special explanation to explain the etymythology of
"posh." There are too many false nautical and acronymic explanations
attached to words to even count. This is just one that combines the two.

-----Original Message-----
From: American Dialect Society [mailto:ADS-L at LISTSERV.UGA.EDU] On Behalf Of
Evan Morris
Sent: Thursday, September 10, 2009 6:40 PM
Subject: Re: A possible insight into "posh."

I wasn't suggesting any sense connection between the safety motto and
the "ritzy" meaning of "posh," only a possible area of human endeavor
(and its occupants) that might have been the birthplace of the spurious
acronymic explanation of "posh."  In other words, I suspect a sailor
(broadly defined) or at least someone familiar with sailing was the
After all, if you were sitting at your desk trying to concoct a bespoke
etymology for "posh" meaning "fancy," steamships would probably not be
your first choice.  More likely something like "Persons Owed
Subservience and Humility."

As for the age of the safety motto, I'd imagine that's it's as old as
standardized maritime "signage" such as buoys, etc., and probably
predates "posh" in the "fancy" sense.


Laurence Horn wrote:
> 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".
> LH
> ------------------------------------------------------------
> The American Dialect Society - http://www.americandialect.org

Evan Morris
words1 at word-detective.com

The American Dialect Society - http://www.americandialect.org

The American Dialect Society - http://www.americandialect.org

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