Who is the real Posh?
November 13, 2002 11:08 AM   Subscribe

Victoria Beckham aka Posh Spice is fighting a move by second division Peterborough United to register their nickname POSH as a trademark for it's club merchandise claiming that the nickname is recognised around the world as belonging to her.

The term POSH is widely believed to have originated in the time of the British Raj when P&O passenger ship tickets were marked POSH -Port Out Starboard Home - port (left-hand side) berths were mostly in the shade when travelling out (easterly) and the starboard ones when coming back. So the best and most expensive berths were POSH. Unfortunately P&O say they have never issued such tickets and none have ever been found even though many tickets do exist from the time.

But this page from the US Navy METOC site claims it originated in Boston as a label for the luggage of wealthy passengers travelling from the US to Europe to indicate which side of the ship to place the luggage to protect it from the sun.

Should you be allowed to register a word in common usage as a trademark? If posh goes what word is next.
posted by stunned (31 comments total)
I dunno ask Jaguar, Paramount or Universal Studios... More interestingly should one be allowed to use scents or colors as trademarks
posted by degnarra at 11:32 AM on November 13, 2002

And hasn't Peterborough used that nickname for decades? They may not "own" it, but they certainly have more right to it than Mrs. Beckham...
posted by jalexei at 11:33 AM on November 13, 2002

posted by Postroad at 11:34 AM on November 13, 2002

She's Push! Cold Product, forget her.
posted by vermilion at 11:37 AM on November 13, 2002

The etymology of posh was interesting, thank you.
posted by four panels at 11:37 AM on November 13, 2002

Aaargh. No. Sorry, but you've triggered a pet peeve of mine.

This is where the word Posh comes from. It's Romany. Never had anything to do with an acronym at all - that was a rationalization tacked on afterwards. Same with the "For Unlawful Carnal Knowledge" acronym, which is an entirely bogus etymology for a perfectly good Anglo-Saxon word.
posted by wanderingmind at 11:40 AM on November 13, 2002

posted by Ty Webb at 11:41 AM on November 13, 2002

Seems like much ado about nothing. One wonders, with this and the alleged kidnapping plot earlier this month, if Beckham isn't just trying to keep her name in the news. Can't imagine much of any other reason it would be there.

(Oh, and just as a helpful reminder, stunned: a single paragraph on the front page with a [more inside] probably would have been the wiser move.)
posted by UnReality at 11:41 AM on November 13, 2002

1) This post is far too long, and pointlessly so: the middle two paragraphs are irrelevant.

2) Not only are they irrelevant, they're wrong; the "port out" explanation has been exploded over and over. It's on the same level as the idea that "golf" comes from "gentlemen only, ladies forbidden." People love these things, but they're pure phonus balonus.

It's your first post, so I'll just say: put a little more work into it next time.

On preview: No, no, no, it's not Romany either! Nobody knows where "posh" comes from; that's why the dictionaries say "origin unknown"!
posted by languagehat at 11:45 AM on November 13, 2002

And hasn't Peterborough used that nickname for decades? They may not "own" it, but they certainly have more right to it than Mrs. Beckham...

Language history aside, even a meat pie of questionable origin sold outside the ground on a wet Saturday in February could lay better claim to the contemporary definition 'posh' than poor old Vicky. Despite the number of times it has been pointed out over the years, it still makes me smile; many things she is (simple-minded, talentless and a waste of valuable oxygen to name but a few) but posh she ain't.
posted by zygoticmynci at 11:47 AM on November 13, 2002

I'm with wanderingmind. While the origin of "posh" is still somewhat unclear, the Romany origin seems the most likely. Other theories propose that it comes from "swish" or "a swell," or from a contraction of "polish" [end of third paragraph]. I think "port out starboard home" has been pretty definitively ruled out.

languagehat - your third link was perhaps meant to be this? I will add that this link as well as your first one go with the Romany origin.
posted by ungratefulninja at 11:57 AM on November 13, 2002

More bad etymology (which may or may not be more interesting than Ms. Beckham): I had a sixth-grade math teacher who informed all of us wee kiddies that "news" stood for north, east, west, south - "the four compass-points where all news comes from". Damn, were we impressed.

It was only later that I realized she knew just as little about math as she did about etymology, which is a big reason I became an English major.
posted by yhbc at 11:59 AM on November 13, 2002

Apple Computer payed Apple records so that they could use the name. They agreed to never make music, but their alert sounds can be seen as such, hence 'sosumi' (so sue me).
posted by Utilitaritron at 12:04 PM on November 13, 2002

sigh, celebrities don't know anything about intellectual property. "posh" by itself is just a generic adjective, thus nixing its trademark value. i seriously doubt she would have an interest in anything but "posh *spice*" and maybe not even that. as i recall, this woman has a child named BROOKLYN - how's that for infringement (not to mention a lifetime of whoop-ass if he moves to NYC)?
posted by serafinapekkala at 12:07 PM on November 13, 2002

YHBC: I find words to be infinitely more fascinating than Victoria Beckham, which is probably why I spend so much time hanging out here.

(By the way, are smilies forbidden here? How do I mark a comment that wasn't intended entirely seriously?)
posted by wanderingmind at 12:08 PM on November 13, 2002

Posh is another word with an apocryphal acronymic origin. Popular etymology has it that posh is an acronym for Port Out, Starboard Home . Supposedly, this acronym was printed on first-class tickets issued by the Peninsular and Oriental Steam Navigation Company going from England to India. The port side on the trip out would have the coolest cabins (or alternately the cabins with the best view). The same would be true of the starboard cabins on the return trip. From this origin, sprang the usage of the term meaning swank, elegant, or fashionable. Unfortunately for this excellent story, no tickets with Posh stamped on them have been found and company records reveal no sign of the phrase.

The earliest recorded use of posh to mean swank is from the 25 September 1918 issue of the British humor magazine Punch. In 1903, P.G. Wodehouse in Tales of St. Austin's used push to mean fashionable. Whether this was a printer's error or Wodehouse actually meant to use push is unknown (several later editors "corrected" this to read posh). In contrast, according to Merriam Webster the earliest claim to the acronymic origin dates to 17 October 1935 in the London Times Literary Supplement, where it is claimed to be of American origin. The earliest association with the P&O dates to two years later, almost twenty years after the word's usage was established.

Posh dates back to at least 1867 in the sense of meaning a dandy or fop. The best guess as to its origin is that it derives from Romani, the language of the Rom (commonly known as Gypsies). In Romani, posh means half and is used in monetary terms like posh-houri or half-pence, and posh-kooroona meaning half-crown. The progression from money to a fancy dresser to swank is logical, if undocumented. Alternatively, Partridge postulates that the "swanky" meaning of posh may be a contraction of polish.

posted by four panels at 12:11 PM on November 13, 2002

> Should you be allowed to register a word in common
> usage as a trademark? If posh goes what word is next.

TIME and TIDE wait for no man.
posted by jfuller at 12:12 PM on November 13, 2002

ungratefulninja: No, my third link just had the posh stuff buried in the middle -- that's why I quoted the relevant sentence in a title attribute. Probably should have said "scroll down to 'Tell Us About Princess Posh Again, Daddy'," though. As for the Romany theory, OK, I overstated (in the usual preview impatience); I should have said "While the Romany origin is possible (unlike the 'port out' theory), it is unprovable, and the verdict has to be "origin unknown."

On preview: Thanks, four panels, for the convenient access to the Romany argument, and I rest my case: the transition from 'half' to 'swanky' doesn't even seem logical to me.
posted by languagehat at 12:14 PM on November 13, 2002

Some go to Chambers, some to Oxford, the source was copied here.
posted by four panels at 12:17 PM on November 13, 2002

When I hear "posh," I don't think of her, and when I hear "Posh Spice," I have to ask "Which was she?" Clearly, she has no valid trademark claim.
posted by tolkhan at 12:21 PM on November 13, 2002

Oh, god. Before anybody goes there, fuck. As well as other common folk etymologies.

The question of common words in use as trademarks is always tricky. First of all, note that one cannot register a word as a mark unless it is distinct from the product. That is, one couldn't call a dish soap Dish Soap®. One could, however, call a dish soap Shine®. But owning the word gleam for a cleaning product does not mean one then owns it for every purpose, because marks must be registered for specific (broad) areas of commerce. Thus, the owner of the Shine® mark for dish soap would have to share it with the owner of the Shine® mark for lamps.

Now, there is an exception for 'famous marks', e.g. one that becomes known worldwide or associated specifically with a certain product. In the US, this extra protection used to be part of case law, but was written into the US code about five years ago, along with rules for internet domain names. Many domain-name litigations base their argument on whether or not the mark involved is 'famous'.

In this case, Victoria Beckham is claiming this higher level of recognition, such that Posh refers to the products in question, club merchandise and apparel, and not just music. This is very much a replay of the US Polo Association v. Ralph Lauren Polo litigation over whether the former could run a glossy lifestyle magazine and sell clothing with a polo logo, which was solved with a court-ordered disclaimer.
posted by dhartung at 12:25 PM on November 13, 2002

May I just say that this (from stunned's first link) is a truly alarming photo.
posted by Songdog at 12:46 PM on November 13, 2002

I agree, Songdog. It's just crying out for a Gilliamesque dancing-teeth treatment.
posted by mr_crash_davis at 12:51 PM on November 13, 2002



Which makes those "What can Brown do for you?" ads, highly amusing.
posted by inpHilltr8r at 1:08 PM on November 13, 2002

Posh = cocaine
posted by i_cola at 2:33 PM on November 13, 2002

The song 'Posh!' from Chitty Chitty Bang Bang [starring that fine Engerlish Cock-erney gentleman, Dick Van Dyke] has probably done a lot to help along the acceptance of the false definition altho' you've got to love a song that contains the entendrerlicious line:
'Last month I miffed a mufti but you can't oblige them all'
posted by i_cola at 2:44 PM on November 13, 2002

Sting tried to make a similar claim to sting.com, WIPO rejected his claim.
posted by yonderboy at 3:04 PM on November 13, 2002

I absolutely agree that she should be allowed exclusive use of the name "Posh" throughout her career.

(which means she relinquished exclusive use about two years ago)
posted by cadastral at 3:45 PM on November 13, 2002

If posh goes what word is next[?]


...The NERVE! ;)
posted by alas at 5:00 PM on November 13, 2002

I own the domain YOU-SUCK.COM (as well as .net and .org) and recently noticed that someone had registered the phrase as a trademark.

Don't really know what to do, but if someone tries to take my PLANETMUTHERFUCKER.COM , I'll be pissed!
posted by Mutant at 4:54 AM on November 14, 2002


1) This post is far too long,
maybe so; mea culpa, mea culpa, mea maxima culpa

and pointlessly so: the middle two paragraphs are irrelevant
In your opinion, I thought it was relevant which is why I included it. One of the things I like about this place is that I get other peoples opinions and see the connections others make, particularly when they differ from my own.

Not only are they irrelevant, they're wrong
hence widely believed .

The interesting thing about the P&O story is that, even though there isn't a shred of evidence and it's constantly being debunked, it continually resurfaces. Is it that it's such a great story we want it to be true? Maybe the Ministry of Truth could jimmy around the facts a bit and make it so.
posted by stunned at 7:03 AM on November 14, 2002

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