Many of you joined Mark Brady in setting me straight. “Your comments today on Posh being a travel acronym [Port Out, Starboard Home] are a little misplaced. Actually, the acronym was supposed to refer to travel to India from England. There was a long discussion about this on the urban legends newsgroup. The relevant URLs are: /posh_etymology_of.html where they reference The Browser’s Dictionary by John Ciardi and /posh_etymology_of_more.html. They also reference the OED, which has six entries, one where Posh is a nickname of a friend and another referencing a Murray Posh. Still, my favorite use of it was in Ian Fleming’s Chitty Chitty, Bang, Bang.”

Adds Robin Sahasranam: “The Port Outbound Starboard Home referred to the desirable cabin bookings on journeys between Britain and its Asian and Pacific colonies like India, Malaya, and Australia. These journeys were before the days of air-conditioning. Port-side cabins on outbound journeys from Britain and Starboard-side cabins on inbound journeys to Britain were on the shady side, and thus more desirable. By the way, all etymologists are not in agreement over this origin of the word posh. There are some who have traced the origins of this word to some Indian languages.”

And this from Mike Schiffer: “John Ciardi, in his Browser’s Dictionary series, argues that the word derives from the Romany word ‘posh’ meaning ‘half,’ which entered into London thieves’ cant as meaning swag or loot, and hence became ‘rich’ or ‘fancy’ in more general slang, but I don’t have that book in front of me. I highly recommend the Ciardi books both because they’re interesting in themselves and because they’re great for checking derivations like this. (A check at Amazon indicates that they are out of print, but they shouldn’t be hard to find used.) In my experience, just about any derivation based on an acronym from before the twentieth century is suspect, though I’m sure there are exceptions. (‘Cop,’ meaning policeman, doesn’t come from ‘Constable On Patrol’ either, even though the World Book Encyclopedia of my youth told me that it did, and ‘tips’ aren’t originally To Insure Promptness.) On the other hand, there are still some neat discoveries to be made: daisies are called that because they look like the Sun, or the ‘day’s eye,’ for example.”



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