Gentlemen Only Ladies Forbidden

November 19, 2009

I frequently wonder about the origins of the words I use.

-How has that word come about? Why do we use it? What relevance to the subject does it have?

It seems like a boring subject, but after much investigating I have found some witty and amusing answers to the questions I ask myself.

Did you know, for instance, that posh stands for Posh Out, Starboard Home? It is thought that the word comes from a phrase used on steamboats carrying passengers from England to India. The phrase states that whoever had the port side on the way out of England and the starboard side on the way home to England had the benefit of the sea breeze and shelter from the sun. It was told that P&O would stamp their tickets with POSH to indicate the more expensive ticket, however when questioned P&O have denied such rumours. This may be a myth, but I think it is a rather amusing one.

Rumour has it that the word bug was introduced at the end of the second world war, when a US Navy ship had a technical problem when a mouth had had got stuck between the contacts of the relay system. This was also known as the source of the word ‘debug’, as they were ordered to find and remove the error in the computer.

The stories behind the word ‘butterfly’ are rather self explanatory -‘flutter-by’ is a common explanation for the word as it describes what the creature does. A favourite children’s story was that fairies and witches transformed themselves into butterflies to creep into larders and steal butter and milk as it was their favourite human food. Another suggestion that the name simply comes from their yellow coloured faeces, which seems more believable.

A favourite word of mine, cocktail, could possible originate from a common mixture of bread and mixed spirits named cock-ale, which was given to cocks before a contest to try to make them more confident, to numb the pain of injuries and to make the bird more aggressive. This was then was drunk by humans after the fight to celebrate the winner - the cock that had the most feathers left in his tail. The left over feathers would then be put into the glass with the alcoholic mixture, giving it its name, cocktail.

I also found a rather far-fetched, yet amusing story of the origins of Davy Jones Locker. Legend has it that Davy Jones used to run a pub, in which he would drug unsuspecting patrons and store them in his ale locker until they could be taken aboard a ship.

The most common four letter word also has different accounts for its purpose. It was written in the fifteenth century that a married couple had to have permission to procreate, hence Fornication Under Consent of the King. Another reason this word might be so commonly used could be the explanation that when a person was imprisoned in stocks, their crime was written above them. To save space a person who had committed adultery would have an acronym above them which stood for ‘For Unlawful Carnal Knowledge’.

The phrase ‘let the cat out of the bag’ has the unusual explanation of a sneaky trick used by market stall owners. When a piglet was sold the market stool traders would put a worthless cat in a bag rather than an expensive piglet to try to trick the buyer. When they would open the bag a cat would come out, exposing the fraud. This, however, I find unlikely, as a cat moves much more than a pig, and would be making a lot of noise.

However amusing these explanations are, I must add my own personal favourite that was listed on a golf website. They believe that golf stands for Gentlemen Only Ladies Forbidden, and state that at their luxury golf course they will abide to the sacred origins of the word. I have yet to receive a reply from the company regarding where the evidence is to prove that this was the original acronym for the word.If you want to look up the origins for any other words you may be interested in, helpful websites are: