[Ads-l] Earlier Instance of Etymological Myth for "Posh"

Bonnie Taylor-Blake b.taylorblake at GMAIL.COM
Sun Mar 27 21:18:01 UTC 2022

In 2011 Fred and Garson discussed the earliest sightings of the origin of
"posh" as deriving from "Port Out, Starboard Home." See far below.

Here are some appearances of this explanation from August 1932 and February
1933, presumably now only available because of further digitization of
British newspapers since that conversation took place. Nothing really new
here, though. (Hmm, or has someone already reported these?)

-- Bonnie


Dr. B.W. Ginsberg, the barrister, who is off next month on a visit to
India, told me yesterday that "posh" was coined by P. and O. travellers.

Going out the cabins on the port side afford the best shelter from the sun.
On the homeward-bound ships the starboard cabins are the most sought.

Hence "Port Out, Starboard Home,"
Hence "posh."

[In "The Diary of a Man about Town," by Quex, News Chronicle (London), 5
August 1932, p. 6. Via britishnewspaperarchive.co.uk.]


Experienced travellers between England and India long ago discovered that
on the outward voyage the port-side cabins were best protected from the
heat of the sun and that the starboard cabins were cooler when homeward

Thus, they had a saying: "Port out, starboard home," and it is probable
that the initials of these words are the origin of the slang term "posh"
for anything that is specially comfortable or select.

[From "Port and Starboard," The Burton (Staffordshire) Observer and
Chronicle, 2 February 1933, p. 3. Via britishnewspaperarchive.co.uk.]

On Mon, Sep 12, 2011 at 7:40 AM Shapiro, Fred <fred.shapiro at yale.edu> wrote:

---------------------- Information from the mail header
> -----------------------
> Sender:       American Dialect Society <ADS-L at LISTSERV.UGA.EDU>
> Poster:       "Shapiro, Fred" <fred.shapiro at YALE.EDU>
> Subject:      Earlier Instance of Etymological Myth for "Posh"
> -------------------------------------------------------------------------------
> I have discovered a pre-1935 occurrence of the "Port Out Starboard Home"
> etymology.  The Times of India refers to this etymology as the probable one
> in a children's column in its April 14, 1933 issue (page 23).
> Fred Shapiro
> Editor
> YALE BOOK OF QUOTATIONS (Yale University Press)
> ________________________________________
> From: American Dialect Society [ADS-L at LISTSERV.UGA.EDU] on behalf of
> Garson O'Toole [adsgarsonotoole at GMAIL.COM]
> Sent: Sunday, September 11, 2011 5:55 PM
> Subject: Etymythology of posh, P. O. S. H.
> The etymythology of the word "posh" (port outbound; starboard home) is
> a very popular example of a false etymology. OED has a 1914 citation
> for the adjective posh, but the earliest cite for the  etymythological
> explanation is much later in 1935.
> OED (December 2006 online) posh, adj.
> Smart, stylish, splendid, luxurious. Also (chiefly Brit.): typical of
> or belonging to the upper class; (affecting to be) superior or
> genteel; ‘snooty’, pretentious.
> 1914    E. C. Vivian Brit. Army from Within v. 86   The cavalryman,
> far more than the infantryman, makes a point of wearing ‘posh’
> clothing on every possible occasion--‘posh’ being a term used to
> designate superior clothing, or articles of attire other than those
> issued by and strictly conforming to regulations.
> The Merriam Webster online FAQ has a discussion of the earliest known
> publication of the fanciful etymology:
> The first appearance of the acronymic origin in print that we know of
> was a letter to the editor of the London Times Literary Supplement of
> 17 October 1935. The writer, an Englishman, wanted to enlighten the
> editors of the Oxford English Dictionary Supplement, who had marked
> its origin obscure; he identified port out, starboard home as "an
> American shipping term describing the best cabins."
> http://www.merriam-webster.com/help/faq/posh.htm
> I have located a 1937 citation that prints a slightly different
> version of the tale and refers to an earlier publication in a
> periodical called "Saint Martin's Review". I do not know when the
> article in "Saint Martin's Review" appeared. Perhaps this information
> might interest list members who have investigated this etymythology.
> Cite: 1937 December 21, The (Daily) Gleaner, Between You & Me:
> Tit-bits Of Current Happenings Reviewed In Daily Sketch by Meddler,
> (NA Page 25),Column 2, December 21, 1937 Kingston, Jamaica.
> (NewspaperArchive)
> I don't think the word "posh" has yet found its way into any standard
> English dictionary, even though it is pretty general use over there.
> The "Saint Martin's Review" is responsible for the following
> derivation of it. "It is said to have come from the custom of opulent
> East Indian Nabobs who, content with nothing but the best, engage
> cabins Port Outside Starboard Homewards." The derivation of a good
> many other words in our language is quite as fantastic.
> I also located a match in a volume that Google Books assigns a 1936
> date. GB in its inscrutable wisdom now claims that there is no match.
> The following information is from electronic records created in July
> 2010. This citation is unverified because the volume was too difficult
> to access on paper or microfilm.
> Title: The Army quarterly, Volumes 33-34
> Authors: Guy Payan Dawnay, Sir Cuthbert Morley Headlam (bart.)
> Publisher: William Clowes & Sons, Ltd., 1936
> Page: 358 (page number from GB snippet display)
> Extracted text:
> ... cushy " from Hindustani is surely well established, and
> conjectures of a Romany source must arise from the similarity of many
> Hindustani and Romany words; while to connect it with " cushion "
> sounds suspiciously like pure fancy. But these derivations are elusive
> things: thus " posh " (stylish, smart) has lately been claimed in the
> Sunday Press both for Suffolk dialect and for Romany, while a third
> correspondent suggests that it is simply the initials of "Port Out
> Starboard Home," indicating the most favoured and expensive side for
> cabins on the way to and from India ; Mr. Partridge adds yet another
> conjecture, a corruption of the Scottish " tosh." Again, "to get his
> goat " may come, ...
> Additional background on this topic is provided at these links:
> Michael Quinion discusses the word posh at World Wide Words here:
> http://www.worldwidewords.org/qa/qa-pos1.htm
> Dave Wilton discusses posh at Word Origins here:
> http://www.wordorigins.org/index.php/more/464/
> Merriam Webster has information in its FAQ:
> http://www.merriam-webster.com/help/faq/posh.htm
> The Phrase Finder website discusses posh here:
> http://www.phrases.org.uk/meanings/port%20out%20starboard%20home.html
> Garson

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