A most entertaining war of words

A most entertaining war of words

An early frontrunner for word of the year could be "disinvited" which has featured in a series of not very diplomatic exchanges flying across The Pond this week.

There is no need to go into who said what in this smorgasbord of unflattering observations. It all started with "inept", "insecure" and "dysfunctional''. This was met by a wonderful volley of "wacky", "very stupid" and "pompous fool". The only disappointment was that "buffoon" didn't put in an appearance, or "nincompoop" perhaps.

None of these words are particularly endearing, but one in particular that emerged which intrigued me was "disinvited". We all know that words with the prefix "dis" are usually not very good news -- there's "discombobulated" for a start which is a most unpleasant feeling. But "disinvited" is one you don't hear that often. It's also an awkward-sounding word.

Most people can handle not being invited to something, or "uninvited'' if you wish. That happens all the time. But to be disinvited means that you were at one stage actually invited, but then someone doesn't want you there anymore. You suddenly become persona non grata. It cannot be a nice feeling.

Posh talk

The other day I was in a pub with a friend having a chat over the origins of certain words. (Warning: this is the sort of thing you are reduced to when you get older). One word that came up was "posh", meaning elegant or upper class, sometimes in a derogatory nature.

My friend suggested it originated as an acronym of Port Out, Starboard Home. It went back to the old days when travelling to India from England required a long sea journey. POSH was supposedly stamped on the tickets of the more affluent passengers who had paid for the most expensive cabins which were on the shady side of the deck on both outward and return voyages. It certainly makes a lot of sense, but unfortunately, like many good etymology stories, doesn't appear to be true. Despite exhaustive research there are no records of tickets on the India route having POSH stamped on them.

Unfortunately, there are no conclusive alternative explanations of where "posh" comes from. The most likely is that it was an old Romany word meaning money, which isn't half as interesting as the ocean liner explanation.

Spicy tale

A posh story that can be confirmed, however, is that in 2002 Victoria Beckham, aka "Posh Spice", tried to stop the English football club Peterborough from registering its nickname as The Posh with the UK Patents office. The club had used the nickname since 1921 and it was a key part of its history. Mrs Beckham claimed "posh" had become synonymous with her name around the world. She lost the case.

Arise, Sir Loin

A couple of years ago, also over a beer, a friend could hardly contain his excitement when he informed me he had just discovered a fascinating derivation of the word "sirloin", the popular cut of meat.

He went on to explain it came from an ancient king of England who so enjoyed a particular loin steak he was chewing on he decided it deserved a special honour. So he promptly pulled out his sword, placed it on the piece of meat and knighted it -- thus Sir Loin was created. A delightful image indeed, but sadly not true. This is despite on the internet just about every English king being cited as responsible for this noble act.

Once again, the correct etymology is much less colourful. It comes from the French sur la longe (above the loin). But next time you tuck into a sirloin steak, it will probably be just a little more enjoyable if you ponder over whether it is actually worthy of a knighthood.

One wonders if Queen Elizabeth at one of her garden parties is ever tempted to knight a crumpet or a cucumber sandwich.

Sandwich spread

Speaking of sandwiches, most people are probably aware that the word "sandwich" is derived from the 18th century British statesman 4th Earl of Sandwich, John Montague. Apparently he was very fond of gambling, particularly playing cards. When he became hungry, not wanting to disrupt his card game by going to dinner, he would ask his valet to bring him beef in two slices of bread and eat at the card table. After a while his playing partners thought this was a good idea and would ask for "the same as Sandwich" during their sessions, and thus the common "sandwich" was born.

Hell raiser

Athough the Earl of Sandwich was truly influential in Britain, he was not held in high esteem, sometimes referred to as "the most disliked man in Britain". Besides his insatiable gambling habit, he was regarded as incompetent and corrupt. A known philanderer, he was once described "as mischevious as a monkey and as lecherous as a goat".

Sandwich was also a leading member of the notorious Hellfire Club that indulged in pagan-like rituals and plenty of naughty goings-on. Another member of that club, journalist and politician John Wilkes, had an ongoing feud with Sandwich which extended into Parliament. In one exchange, Sandwich chided Wilkes with: "Sir, I do not know whether you will die on the gallows, or of the pox." To which Wilkes responded: "That will depend, my lord, on whether I embrace your principles or your mistress."

Contact PostScript via email at oldcrutch@hotmail.com

Roger Crutchley

Bangkok Post columnist

A long time popular Bangkok Post columnist. In 1994 he won the Ayumongkol Literary Award. For many years he was Sports Editor at the Bangkok Post.

Email : oldcrutch@gmail.com

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