Category Archives: Language

Posh traveling

Last night, before I left wet western Washington for the arid east, I had a discussion with my uncle Doug about the etymology of the word “posh,” and I promised him I’d write about the outcome on here. He told me that “posh” was originally an acronym for “Port Out, Starboard Home,” which was a seat reservation on trans-oceanic sea voyages. Apparently, the sunlight was supposed to be best according to that pattern.

I was doubtful, however, so I invoked the authority of the Oxford English Dictionary and challenged his story. According to the OED, posh has unclear origins but may come from Urdu, Persian, or Welsh Romani and was derived from either a term for currency or a derogatory reference to the wealthy. Both the OED and Wikipedia (which are opposite extremes of the word-reference spectrum, in my opinion) call POSH a false acronym—one that is constructed from an existing word—and in true Slager-pun style, I declared the ocean-liner story to be fishy indeed!

One thing is sure: traveling by train is far more posh than traveling by bus. I’m currently taking rubber-wheeled mass transit across Stevens Pass, and just now I rather wish I’d waited for the Empire Builder, despite its inconvenient time schedule. I’m trying to block out the stench of the over-filled toilet and the sound of people complaining about it by listening to Prairie Home Companion, which always reminds me of pleasanter things. The scenery helps too.

I’d forgotten how much personality the North Cascades have. These ain’t no symmetrical cinder cone mountains. No sir, this is a right range of jagged peaks. Unlike Fuji or Kilimanjaro, whose bell-curve shapes formed from a volcanic spout spewing rock in a predictable pattern, the Cascades formed when two tectonic plates smashed together and all sorts of earth and rock were thrust skyward by the impact. Actually, they’re still slowly uplifting, and the subduction that also happens where the Juan de Fuca plate slides below the North American plate creates volcanoes like Mount St. Helens, which is also part of the Cascade Range.

The result of all that geology makes for a pretty stunning drive, and, logically, the pass follows the Skykomish River most of the way through the mountains, which only improves the view. Highway 20, which winds across the range farther north, is far more beautiful than Stevens Pass (Highway 2), but it’s also about twice as long. I drove that route with my dad after we helped Leah move out here two years ago and still see visions of that grand turquoise landscape in my daydreams. Here’s a picture from that older trip:

We just passed Leavenworth (“A Bavarian town!”), which means we’re headed downhill now into the desert. The blues and greens turn quickly to browns and more muted hues, which are beautiful in their own sunshiny way, although also accompanied by some wildfires visible around Wenatchee. I’m close now to more family—and soon to be free from the smell of this bus!