Where does the word ‘posh’ come from?

Why have Britain's upper classes been described in history as 'posh'? And where did this word originate?

The history of maritime travel could explain why we use the word 'posh' for the British upper classes. (Photo by George Rinhart/Corbis via Getty Images)

Where else than Britain are the elegant and well-to-do described as ‘posh’? The origins of the word definitely lurk inside the last couple of centuries of Britain’s history, but where exactly is uncertain.


Yet the most popular story comes from the days of the Raj in India. It was a time when wealthy Brits would sail to India so they could enjoy a holiday in an exotic part of the empire.

On the boat journey out, the most comfortable berths were on the left-hand side, or port, as they would be in the shade and a little cooler. Therefore, the right, or starboard, rooms were best for the return journey.

So if holidaymakers were discussing an upcoming trip, all they would have to remember for the voyage was: ‘Port out, starboard home’, or posh.


This article was taken from the September 2015 issue of BBC History Revealed magazine