Interesting Words and Their Lost Treasures

interesting words of history and lost treasuresGuest Post by Beatrice Mercedes

Interesting Words and Their Lost Treasures

I have often said treasures are everywhere, and often they are the things that we give a special value to, perhaps because they are rare, or hard to find, and this can relate to either the final baseball card to finish a collection, or someone we take as being a best friend.

Often our treasures are things that others seek, value and desire too, others are very personal. Some have monetary reward, some emotive – some have both.

Yet, some of the most delightful treasures are those that we just fall across and smile at, not just at the moment when we discover them, but also from the memory they create when they arrived in our lives. Again, this can include, people, gifts, purchases, discoveries, but I think so often we love the treasures of our senses, when a smell or taste can take us back to our youth, when the sound of a song can bring back the warmth of hug or smile.

Then there are interesting words. Obviously words can be extremely emotive treasures, the combination of words in a speech, a letter, a piece of poetry or a song, can be so influential we easily see how they not only can affect us as individuals, but how they can change the ethos of a whole society, even a nation.

Interesting Words Inspire Treasure Hunts

Yet, equally, the very nature of a word can be a treasure hunt in itself, just as we can read of adventures of the 19th century explorers seeking for the source of the Nile, or of Heinrich Schliemann going in search of the city of Troy using the words of the Greek author Homer leading his way, ‘words’ themselves can offer entertaining miniature Treasure Hunts into culture and history, offering exciting tales and legends of their own.

For instance, the fun of looking and wondering about the origin of words can reveal some interesting stories.

For example, the word ‘Posh’, implying someone, or something, perceived to be from a higher level of society, has its own little mystery and legend of origin. The common legend is that the word derives from when the English elite used to sail to their colonial lands in India, and was something written on either their luggage or ticket that related to a very specific traveling instruction. This instruction, apparently, related to what cabin the passenger and luggage were meant to be given, and was only really adopted by those who could afford to pay for the luxury.

The instruction was to do with the most expensive cabins on a boat, which were those that had a sea view. So if you were rich, these were what you would buy, for the trouble of traveling to India was the heat of the sun would bake one side of the ship on the way out and the other side on the way back. To address this, the really rich would book to travel out on the Port side of the ship, which would be in the shade, but switch to a Starboard side cabin for the journey home. As such their tickets and luggage would be marked ‘P.O.S.H’, meaning ‘Port Out Starboard Home’.

Unfortunately, this appears only to be a legend, as the first record of this theory appears from only the 1930’s and many attempts have been made to investigate if it is true by going through the vast material and records of the shipping lines that covered these trips, and nothing has ever been found to prove it. Although, saying that, no other explanation has been found, or has been accepted as to the origin of the word ‘POSH’, so to discover a ticket with this term on could be a treasure in itself.

Origin of the Word Quiz: A Lost Treasure

Another fun example is the interesting word ‘Quiz’. The legend behind this word, commonly accepted to mean a defined intellectual challenge, normally as a competition, is that in 1791, in the city of Dublin, Ireland, a theatre owner by the name Richard Daly made a bet that he could make an unknown word part of the local language within 48 hours.

To win the wager, Daly, got his theatre staff to first just handout cards with the word ‘Quiz’ written on it to the audience and passers-by, with strict instructions not to offer any explanation of the word or why they were doing it. Then during the night he and his staff went around the city writing the word on as many walls as possible. The result was within 48hours Daly had got the people of Dublin wondering what this word ‘Quiz’ meant, which then made it become a phrase to imply something unknown, like a puzzle – hence a ‘quiz’.

It’s a delightful story, and can be found in F. T. Porter’s ‘Gleanings and Reminiscences’, but this was not published until 1875, almost one hundred years after the event. This doesn’t mean it’s not true, but there is little evidence in Dublin of this ‘questionable’ style of vandalism.

In addition, the word ‘Quiz’ was already known in England, in the late 18th century, as it is found casually used in the diary of Fanny Burney, the famous novelist and playwright. But by her it was used to describe someone of ‘low intelligence’. So again doesn’t disprove the story, as it could simply be that the English use of the word was limited and unknown in Ireland at the time.

Although, the Quiz also is known to have been used to describe a simple toy, like a yo-yo or spinning top in the very late 18th century, but again this is in England and after the date of F.T.Porters claim of when the theatrical events happened in Ireland.

The shame is, that the date of the story doesn’t really match the literally evidence of when the word was used to mean a test of intellectual knowledge, which wasn’t until the mid-1800’s. Indeed, it could have taken the Irish meaning 75 years to be adopted in England and further aboard, and like the legend of ‘Posh’ the origin of the word is still really a mystery, leaving the legend to stand as the only offered explanation.

What would it be like if one of the Theatre cards ever came to be found?  Or to discover a POSH ticket?  Lost Treasures to look for, if they exist that is.

~ Beatrice Mercedes:  an avid writer and explorer into all things fun and interesting.  

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7 Responses

  1. Jenny Kile says:

    Thank you, Beatrice, for this excellent post! Loved it! I can now add two more treasure hunting items to my list: A POSH ticket and a QUIZ theater note! So cool!

  2. Jdiggins says:

    Great read Jenny and Beatrice. Thanks. That’s so very interesting. POSH Quiz. 🙂

  3. Buckeye Bob says:

    That’s a nice article. It opens up the idea of more treasures out there than a person might normally think about.

  4. Strawshadow says:

    Thank you Jenny and Beatrice,
    Sharing your joy of words was meaningful and rewarding yet quizzically emotive. To despise riches, may, indeed, be philosophic, but to dispense them worthily, must surely be more beneficial to mankind. Carry on whilst my poshy eight bit seat awaits, somewheres near the middle of the peanut gallery.

  5. Nate Beck says:

    Very good piece Ms. Mercedes. Words, as well as language, is a treasure indeed. As a lover of etymology, I often come across fascinating details of common words that open up a whole different world of ideas and discovery.


  6. Twingem says:

    Very nice! Enjoyed this post.

  7. Beatrice says:

    Thank you so much everyone. You are so kind. Do like words and the power of them. Its like they are little spells and mysteries in themselves. A little treasure hunt in every word.

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