Often when I am alone and my mind is free to wander, I am drawn to make connections between things I observe and things I know. Historical things. Cultural things. Sometimes something I see or hear will trigger a question of etymology. I see a word or name in a new light and wonder, what’s the association there? Why are cantaloupes named for the call of the wolf? What does porcelain have to do with pigs? How does lactation fit into galactic? (It all goes back to the Milky Way) Is there any link between taxicabs and taxidermy? (There isn’t. Different root.)
I was out walking and happened to see an advertisement that used the word POSH. A widely held and completely unsubstantiated explanation of its etymology is that it originated with British sea voyage to India and that the most desirable staterooms were, on a round trip, “Port Out, Starboard Home”, and that this acronym was stamped on tickets of passage in purple ink. The problem is that, though many souvenir tickets still exist in scrapbooks and museums, not a single one is so stamped, not in purple or otherwise. And who would such a stamp inform? The passenger would know what they had reserved. The crew would surely know the stateroom’s orientation by its number.
Like many etymological theories, the real origins of posh are speculative but a late nineteenth century dictionary of Romany (gypsy) terms lists “pash” as describing a dandy. By the early twentieth century, P. G. Wodehouse used it in its currently understood sense in a story, suggesting that by then it had entered into common parlance.
So, that’s a glimpse at what goes on inside my head when I am by myself.
What goes on in your head? Any favorite etymology?