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Posted by Gary Martin on May 09, 2011 at 07:35

In Reply to: POSH posted by David FG on May 08, 2011 at 11:24:

: : I am amazed that the origin of 'posh' is still not acknowledged because the evidence is overwhelming and conclusive. 'Posh' is a contraction of 'polish' or 'polished'. The historical setting should be obvious to any historian. The nineteenth century was the first age of consumerism - furniture was french polished, it was sold as well polished and had to be kept well polished; brass, copper, silver plate etc. were increasingly available and had to be kept polished. A well-to-do home had many material possessions and was a polished home or a posh home.

: : Around the late nineteenth century 'polish(ed)' began to describe human qualities – a play was a polished performance, a written work was a polished work; a person was a polished person and then a posh person. "posh' for a dandy or homosexual man is a use of the term in this latter sense, it is not the origin.

: : Older dictionaries even give ‘polish(ed)’ as being the origin of ‘posh’. I have seen ‘polish’ abbreviated to 'posh' in copies of old household instructions.

: : Where are all the historian? Why is the obvious not seen? There are many other words and terms that are incorrectly attributed but I select this as the most glaringly, over-the-top obvious.

: : (ps. Please don’t cite the Concise Oxford Dictionary – it’s gone all light and frothy and has lost its way).

: OK, you MIGHT be right, and 'posh' could indeed well be a corruption of 'polish', but there is a bit of a gap between 'might' and 'is'. Where is the evidence that this is indeed the case?

: From a purely logical approach (leaving aside any linguistic considerations) why should the word 'polish' become 'posh'? I am not aware of any other word that lost its middle in the Victorian period - though I am quite happy to be proven wrong on this - so why just this one? Why didn't 'varnish' become 'vash', for example?


The argument presented here seems to centre around the "historical setting", i.e. the assertion that "Around the late nineteenth century 'polish(ed)' began to describe human qualities". That's not correct - 'polished' has been used figuratively as an adjective since at least the 15th century. An example is Hoccleve's De Regimine Principum, circa 1450:

Weyue fauel with his polysshid speche

"Why is the obvious not seen?" - because it isn't obvious.

Verifiable facts welcome here; unverified option presented as though it were fact, less so.