Always demand proof, proof is the elementary courtesy that is anyone’s due. —Paul Valéry, "Monsieur Teste"

This is a companion discussion topic for the original entry at
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Here you say “The oft-repeated fiction that posh is an acronym, for example, seems to have emerged circa 1968.” But that contradicts your linked entry for posh, where you say “The acronym story dates from 1955” (with no citation).

Both pages are wrong: the “port out, starboard home” myth was already being spread earlier than that by the ever-gullible Mario Pei in The Story of English (first edition 1952, reprinted in later decades). Google Books will find even earlier examples from the 1940s, and one as early as January 1938 in Shipbuilding and Shipping Record. That makes it one of the earliest fake acronyms.

“Port out, starboard home” did get a boost in 1968, when it was used in a song in the movie Chitty Chitty Bang Bang. Perhaps that’s what you were thinking of.

thank you; the column was written years ago, and when I back-date an entry I don’t always remember to check if the word is in that column. I was aware of Pei, as I recall, but could not find the actual page of the book (not a reprint).

Here’s what looks to be a 1933 from newspapers dot com (Burton Observer and Chronicle, 02 Feb)


There is much out there to be dug.

Thank you for this! It so perfectly describes the reason for a subterranean unease I’ve felt when hearing—or worse, sharing—such stories to amuse or entertain. Although they have perhaps made some dull conversations more lively, false “history”, even of something that seems relatively benign at first glance, can’t help but feed into alternative realities.

To be clear, whenever I have told such stories I didn’t know they were fictions; not knowing how to either verify or disprove them was part of my unease.

Happily, this is a much more worthwhile and interesting story to tell! Thank you again.

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Long ago I got an e-mail from a vexed fellow who seems to have collected all those bogus ‘Hey Martha’ etymologies in his mind and would deploy them as needed to delight an audience or stimulate family. At least that’s how he described the effect. He didn’t like that the set-pieces had been publicly exploded, and the rug yanked from under his practiced act.

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