Doesn't the Word "posh" come from "port out, starboard home"?
We do not know the precise origin of the adjective posh, meaning "elegant, fashionable," but nearly everyone else seems to. Every year we get dozens of letters informing us that posh comes from the first letters of the phrase "port out, starboard home," which designated the most desirable accommodations on a steamship voyage from England to India and back.
To Great Lengths
The most elaborate version of the story associates the practice with the Peninsular and Oriental Steam Navigation
Company, which from 1842 to 1970 was the major steamship carrier of passengers and mail between England and India.
The P. & O. route went through the Suez Canal and the Red Sea. The cabins on the port side on the way to India got
the morning sun and had the rest of the day to cool off, while starboard ones got the afternoon sun, and were still
quite hot at bedtime. On the return trip, the opposite was true. The cooler cabins, therefore, were the more desirable
and were reserved for the most important and richest travelers. Their tickets were stamped P.O.S.H. to indicate
these accommodationsin large violet letters, according to one recollection. This account of the origin of posh was even used in advertising by the P. & O. in the 1960s.
The Story Won't Float
But the story won't float. 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." Why this phrase described
the best cabins he does not say. The earliest association of the acronym with the P. & O. seems to come from A
Hundred Year History of the P. & O., by Boyd Cable, which was published in 1937. The author calls it a "tale." And as late as 1962 the librarian of the P. & O. was unable to find any evidence that P.O.S.H. was actually stamped on anything.
A Stamp of Certainty
The most detailed and colorful account of the acronym in our files is a letter from a retired mariner who recalled
in considerable detail (including the violet letters) how in 1913 he had seen such a P. & O. round-trip ticket in the possession of a man returning to Hong Kong. He had missed his P. & O. ship in Italy and was thus a passenger on the same ship (of a different steamship line) as the letter writer. This man, a European official employed by the
Chinese government, had booked his trip in Hong Kong and was thus making the round-trip in a direction opposite to
that of the English gentry on their way to the Raj. According to the theory, his ticket should have been stamped
S.O.P.H. to assure him cool accommodations. But the writer recalls a violet P.O.S.H.
A Modern Invention
And come to think of it, why would the P. & O. clerks have to stamp anything on the tickets? Surely they must have known the location of every cabin by its number. We therefore conclude that if the practice of preferring cabins on the cooler side of the ship did existand it certainly seems reasonableno acronymic P.O.S.H. (or its unmentioned opposite S.O.P.H.) was necessary on the tickets for such accommodations. And no evidence of its use has yet appeared. We further conclude, then, that the acronymic theory of the origin of the adjective poshis simply a modern invention.
There are other theories to account for posh, one of which has been accepted by a few dictionaries. This
explanation connects posh with English university slang from around the turn of the century. The earliest
example of posh in print comes from a cartoon in Punch, 25 September 1918. It shows an RAF officer
talking to his mother and has this bit of dialogue: "Oh, yes, Mater, we had a posh time of it down there.""Whatever do you mean by 'posh', Gerald?""Don't you know? It's slang for 'swish']" This exchange is not incompatible with an origin in university slang, but earlier evidence is lacking.
A Push for Posh
The most tantalizing earlier connection is in a 1903 story by P. G. Wodehouse in his Tales of St Austin's. In the story a character remarks of a bright yellow waistcoat that it is "quite the most push thing of the sort at
Cambridge." Unfortunately for posh, Wodehouse spelled it push. In the much later Penguin paperback
edition of the stories, the editor, Richard Usborne, changed push to posh. When queried, he replied
that he suspected the original push to have been a misprint. If it was not a misprint, he thought it might
have been a mistake by Wodehouse, who had never attended a university and who had made a number of small factual
errors about Oxford and Cambridge in other stories. If Usborne's surmise is correct, posh would have been
university slang. But it is only a surmise, and we are left with the intractable push originally printed.
Another possible source is a turn-of-the-century noun posh meaning 'a dandy'. This meaning is listed in two
slang dictionaries of the period but without corroborative evidence. The Oxford English Dictionary Supplement could
find nothing better for the sense than the nickname of a fisherman friend of Edward FitzGerald and a character Murray
Posh, described as "a swell," in an 1892 novel. We don't know if this posh was ever used in print as a