The etymology of "posh" and the power of stories


Do you know the origin of the word "posh"? Well-read people (which is of course not the same thing as posh people) will tell you the story of rich people buying their passage-to-India liner tickets on the side of the boat which avoided the beating sun: Port side (left) on the outward journey, and starboard side (right) to come home. Port-Out-Starboard-Home. "POSH".

Great story, not true.

The most interesting thing about this is not the origin of the word itself (etymologists cannot agree about it) but the power of stories. We remember concepts, especially if told through a good story, much more keenly than facts. It is now accepted that the word posh is in fact a classic example of a retronym - a word whose origin is explained on the basis of the most plausible-sounding retrospective theory. And yet, despite knowing this at one level, people continue to tell the original story, because it fits so well, and is so quaint. Interested in this sort of thing? I'm giving a little talk (free of charge) on the origins of European languages this Thursday, 12th November, 7:30pm. Contact me if you'd like the Zoom log-ins: andrew@sameskylanguages.co.uk



 

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