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posh, rain cats and dogs, brass knobs

Posted by Garry Smith on November 08, 2010 at 23:09

‘Posh’ is clearly a contraction of ‘polish’ or ‘polished’. The nineteenth century was the first great age of consumerism, a posh household had a lot of material possessions that were kept well polished. There are plenty of notes to this effect in house keeping comments from the time and the contraction ‘posh’ is occasionally seen. Old dictionaries frequently give this as the definition. For example, among the several I have is a Chambers 1962, first published 1901, which defines ‘posh’ as ‘spruced up, smart, superb’, origin ‘polish’.

We also need to understand the widespread use of contractions and abbreviations in business language at the time, it was a form of shorthand in its own right but was not used in formal English, which is the English we read when we research. Abbreviations and contractions were also a popular form of slang and were in widespread use – perhaps even a language form in their own right.

Why can’t everyone see it? The word association is there, the historical circumstances are there and the evidence is there. I consider this one conclusive and closed.
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‘Raining cats and dogs’ I submit has nothing to do with drowned dogs in the street or cats and dogs sleeping on roofs – both border on the absurd as explanations.

The terms ‘cats and dogs’, ‘polecats and dogs’, ‘dogs and polecats’ have long been used in literature and in everyday language to depict great noise, commotion, racket etc. Fighting like cats and dogs is another example. The term simply describes a great racket caused by falling rain. A pub or club comedian today may well say something like ‘and trendsetters, it was just pissing down’ – ‘raining cats and dogs’ is simply that sort of expression.

Comment re dead dogs being in the street was another popular theme of the 18th and 19th centuries – the level of garbage and pollution in streets and waterways. Historians will be aware of the famous Punch cartoon of 1858, titled ‘The Silent Highwayman’ depicting death, dead animals and pollution on London’s waterways.

A possibility I have given some consideration to is whether the Greek ‘cataclysmos’, a great deluge or flood, could be in there somewhere but I think I would be drawing ‘a long bow’.
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‘With brass knobs’. There are several expressions mentioning knobs, with knobs, with brass knobs.

Those who are as long or longer in the tooth than me may remember as children we would give a bit of cheek and receive the comment ‘the same to you with brass knobs’ or ‘ditto with brass knobs’. The expression was old in my childhood but was passed on by older generations.

Newspaper advertisements in the late 19th and early twentieth centuries would have many home furnishing advertisements, among them ads for beds. The basic bed would be plain iron but there would be a succession of grander models being expressed ‘the same with … ‘(some other feature). The ultimate example would often be ‘the same with brass knobs’ or ‘ditto with brass knobs’.