Jun 29

Salty Talk: Posh

Wednesday, June 29, 2016 12:01 AM


Cartoon by Eric Smith. U.S. Naval Institute

Cartoon by Eric Smith. U.S. Naval Institute

Many have heard the term “posh,” used to mean something fancy or luxurious — swanky. The word has its origin in the operations of the Pacific and Orient Steamship Company of nearly a century-and-a-half ago.

The P. & O. line made voyages principally between England and British Empire ports on the rim of the Indian Ocean and in the Far East. Its steamers traveled south across the Bay of Biscay, east through the Mediterranean, south again through the Suez Canal and Red Sea, and then fanned out across the Indian Ocean to such places as Bombay, Calcutta, Trincomalee, Singapore, and Hong Kong.

Traveling in tropical waters in these early steamers, without mechanical ventilation or air conditioning, could be quite taxing. Veteran voyagers on the P. & O. soon learned the advantage of having a cabin on the side away from the sun, and would make future reser­vations accordingly. Cabins desired were on the left hand side of the ship when going to India, and on the left returning to England, or “port out, starboard home.” The steamship company began rubber stamping tickets with such reservations with the abbreviation “P. O. S. H.” — and so the word was born.