Lionel_Jeffries_Chitty_Chitty_Bang_BangChild 3 was out the other day with her friend and her friend’s mum when she caused a little linguistic debate by describing something as posh. “What’s posh?” they both asked. “Oh,” said Child 3, “That’s a British word for fancy.”

She is right about that. Very nicely put.

But it appears that those of us who believe, after years of watching Chitty Chitty Bang Bang every Christmas, that posh is an acronym derived from the desire of the upper classes to travel from Britain to India on the shady side of ship (Port Out, Starboard Home), are not correct.

My research suggests that this is a false etymology: an example of folk etymology or urban myth. The OED blog explains it all very nicely here.

And Wikipedia also has info on the topic, going so far as to suggest far from being an acronym, posh might even be a backronym! A what? It seems a backronym is where the phrase has been worked out to fit the letters of an already existing word. Good eh?

And just in case that’s not crystal clear, here’s an example. Adidas. Not an acronym of All Day I Dream About Sport. That came later. The company is named after its founder Adolf (Adi) Dassler.

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