Monday, September 14, 2009

What does 'posh' mean?

Before going further with this blog, I need to address the question of what posh is. Port-out-starboard-home is one theory for the origin of the word, indicating the side of the ship the First Class passengers sat on as they voyaged to Trump Tower. And as First Class in them days (ie Titanic) meant people with money and the only people with money then were people with class, then for years, posh meant rich and upper class.

In the 21st century, having sold off all their big houses, paid enormous death duties and lost a few elder sons to drugs and insurance scams, most posh people aren't rich. At least, money cannot be a defining factor in their poshness. Which also means that poshness cannot be about size of house or location because some of them can only afford a bedsit in Fulham. I think a posh person prefers to live somewhere tiny but smart than huge but degenerate but it isn't a general rule. It probably is true that there still aren't many posh people in council flats.

So does it mean class?

But class is itself a rather moveable feast, with plenty claiming to have hauled themselves up by their father's bootstraps from working to middle class. And it is generally agreed that in three generations a family can move from middle to upper class (because of a peerage or because the rich-but-unposh bloke married the poor-but-posh bird and sent their kids and their grandkids to public school).

Hmmm. Public school (which means Eton and Harrow and not fee-paying schools generally for reasons I can't quite fathom but might have something to do with fags and boaters). So could posh be about educashun? Emphatically not - the posh were barely educated until the 1980s. The poshest women I know were positively refused access to school and the boys would spend their time either playing cricket or beating off advances from the music tutors. It's better now but that's to do with civilization not the posh.

Is it about voting Tory? No. The best posh people were proper bohemians from the 1940s onwards and advocated fighting in Spanish civil wars, living in a commune and inviting drunk hobos to live in a shed at end of their garden. In other words, they voted Lib Dem, if they voted at all. Or they just voted for peace, man.

Why am I posh, then? I was brought up in Deptford in a terraced house by left-wing hippies. I went to a private school (not public, note), but only because I've got a hearing problem and couldn't hear the teacher in the trendy open-plan classrooms of the local state school. I work for a living and am about as far from rich as a windfall apple from the top of the tree. Yet if you met me, you would call me posh. Why?

Coming up next - the posh or not quiz.

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