I recently went to a Pizza Hut for the first time in over 20 years. Great value. Super salad bar, if you like cold pasta with white gloop on it. But a strangely worded menu.
Not that strange: pizzas are what you expect in a Pizza Hut, and pizzas are what you get. But I was struck by the proud heading ‘Posh Pizzas’. By posh they meant that these pizzas had toppings that you’d normally expect to find somewhere really exclusive, like Pizza Express or Zizzi. Prosciutto. Chanterelles. Red onion. None of your basic ham and pineapple rubbish; that was relegated to page two. And it occurred me how confused the current use of the word ‘posh’ is.
In the Pizza Hut context I suppose it’s meant to mean ‘sophisticated’, ‘upmarket’, ‘a little bit special’. But while posh is a compliment when it comes to food, it’s more often used as an insult. Even, in the case of politicians, a bona fide reason to disqualify you from public office, if the hysterical inverted snobbery directed at Cameron, Osborne et al is anything to go by. So people described as being posh splutter, strenuously deny it and protest their ‘ordinary’ credentials.
Not me. I once had a very charming evening in a club in Cambridge, huddled outside on a tiny balcony seeking respite from the din with a bunch of young clubbers I’d never met before in my life. ‘Cor, you’re so posh!’ they marvelled. ‘I’ve never spoken to anyone who speaks like you before! I can’t get over the way you talk!’
I suppose I could have countered with ‘And you’re so common! I didn’t know people really spoke like you! I never thought I’d make conversation with anyone so rough!’ I didn’t, of course; they were thoroughly nice people and I enjoyed laying it on thick. By the time I left I sounded like the Queen putting on her best telephone voice.
But it illustrated a puzzling point. Why is it considered offensive to allude to someone’s weight, plainness of face, colour — even BO — yet absolutely fine to discuss and even mock the way they speak to their face, if the way they speak is Received Pronunciation?
It’s all relative, anyway. What counts as posh in Pizza Hut would be seen as slumming it anywhere else. And what about Posh Spice? If she’s posh, I’d hate to see Common Spice.
Would you put the cosh to posh, or… sorry, I’ve run out of rhymes. But I’d love to hear your views.