J. P. Maher Ph. D. Professor Emeritus of Linguistics
Oxford University Press editor Angela Blackburn told me in 1984 that "etymology doesn't sell." Michael Quinion's. POSH should sell. It is a better than average refutation of a lot of "etymomythology". True, but not new is Quinion's debunk of the myth that HM colonials sailing off to the Raj in India took cabins "port out, starboard home"- to be on the shady side of the ship. I wish Quinion more success than a Chicago Tribune reader had in 1980 with the same debunk. Dear Editor phoned the author to say he had received over twenty protest letters defending the nautical apocryphon. For "balance", Dear Editor printed a "rebuttal", probably written by himself or a flack posing as a visitor to our fair city, selflessly taking time out from his busy architecture tour to pen the magisterial letter.
Quinion debunks well, but fails to recognize the source of POSH, although he includes it among his range of possibilities.
No Britisher who uses the term is alluding to ocean voyaging or the far flung Empire. The source of "posh" lies in the name of Quinion's city of residence, Bristol. The L is spurious there. The spelling ought to be Bristow, with W - not L - as in the surname. The W to L shift is clear in the name of John Cleese's anti-hero, Basil, as Fawlty is over the hill; both "faulty" and forty-plus. Phoneticians Elmer Fudd and Lewis Carroll manifest the vagaries of Ls and Rs and Ws. "We called him Tortoise because he taught us."
When English folk fix up their place, they say they have it "all poshed [= polished] up"; they have "poshed digs". Though he mentions "polish", Quinion is not up to taking the phrase, rather than the disembodied word, as the circumstances out of which "posh" emerged. The final sound of "posheD" gets swallowed up by the initial sound of the following word, "Digs." For God sake. -- Newest posh-wrinkle is recent Riming Slang "Posh and Becks", meaning "sex", from Victoria Adams(Posh Spice Girl) & hubby footballer David Beckham.
Yankee. Hanks is presumably Quinion's source for the claim that Yankie from Dutch Janke "Johnny," is a surname commonest in the Hudson valley, though Janke - Johnny is a forename, not a surname. H. L. Mencken 1941 and Whitney 1889 looked to Scotland for the source. The West Virginia White pages have a lot of families by the Yankie ~ Yankey ~ Yankee, some acronyms from German Janke, but most of these Y-folk Scotch-Irish. New England Yankee appears in the yellow pages, not the white pages. Copious evidence on the uses of Yankee and "Yankee Notions" is found in 19th century periodicals (primary sources, unlike dictionaries). The Yankee homeland is Northern England and Lowland Scotland. More to follow. Watch this space.
Kibosh [sic]. Cockney origin was argued - rightly - by Cockney scholar Julian Franklyn. Maven Safire mulled over the word. It has no Yiddish source, nor was there ever any weird Irish ritual "cap of death". Quinion and co-maven Jesse Sheidlower misspell the Gaelic phrase in question. Kibosh code-breakers only need to know how we mis-spell English. In the National Spelling Bee the game master pronounces a word. The contestant wins if the word and its standard spelling are both in memory. Otherwise, the contestant composes a "phonetic" spelling. My downfall in 8th grade was "paroxysm". The spelling "kibosh" is a phonetic (mis)spelling. See medieval English: "I caboched my beast" - that is, I cut off the head of my venison. Then, in heraldry (duly noted by Quinion) there is "a caboche", the frontal view of an animal's head cut off behind the ears. You will discern on coins of the realm, in profile, the "caboche", disrespectfully speaking, of the royal head. Which is why John Cleese opened his audience with HM the Queen, "I've seen your head."
"Crap". The source of the toilet word Crapper, Quinion notwithstanding, is indeed the surname Crapper. The source of that name is the noun (not verb) "crap ~ crop", the taxman's term for a reaper. Ken Grabowski has interviewed all of Thomas Crapper's surviving relatives. They say they never encountered any "sniggering" about the name. The name Crapper would never have been emblazoned on public fixtures - Her Majesty would not have been amused - if England had then known "crap" as a common term for defecation. Reyburn's hilarious "Flushed With Pride: the story of Thomas Crapper" (1969) is no hoax, but just a bald-faced farce. Hoaxes are meant to deceive, not amuse; hoaxes are done with a straight face, as Dawson's Piltdown Man. In another farce Reyburn invented an inventor of the bra, "Bust Up: the Uplifting Story of Otto Titzling" stories. Otto never existed. Thomas existed, and his plumbing products bear the family name, cast in iron. Thomas Crapper & Co. held the royal warrant for installing flush toilets in HM shipyards and barracks. Thomas Crapper saved lives, low and high: Victoria's consort Prince Albert died of typhoid fever from the foul water in HM palaces, and her son the prince of Wales (and then King Edward VII) nearly met the same end. Windsor Castle plumbing fixtures were Crappers.
No evidence of a verb "crap" (for defecation) has been adduced that antedates the plumbing business of Thomas Crapper & Company Ltd. Only after World War I did the snickering start in America. Quinion wrongly takes "crop" and "crap" chronologically, as before and after. But the difference is geographic; "crop" is south English, while "crap" is north English, Scotch and Scotch-Irish. Thomas Crapper was a Yorkshireman. Thereupon Quinion mistranslates northern dialect "crappin' ken" in effect as s `defecation shed'. The reference instead was to the "crap = crop" - of leaf or grass - "harvested" for wiping.
One million doughboys passed through those places of easement. Quinion contends wrongly that no published evidence exists of American soldiers in WW I using the terms "crap" and "crapper. Ken Grabowski has tracked down and will publish the earliest loci attesting the WW I toilet verb and noun "crap" in soldiers' literature published after the Great War.
So, if you're on your maiden word maven voyage, buy Quinion's POSH, though 20 bucks is kind of steep for the slim volume. If you're an old hand at word books, skip this one.