This is the celebrated journal of Mr. Simon Collison A.K.A Colly

Don’t POSH me

17th January 2008

As a rule, I am against forced acronyms. Take my least favourite - POSH. POSH is just awful.

Here, we see the utterly unnecessary “Plain Old” added to the essential “Semantic HTML”, just so that the acronym becomes a quirky, pronounceable word. What’s worse is that it is an initialism within an acronym (an initio-nacro-nym maybe?) because of the HTML bit. So, in reality it should be POSHTML, pronounced posh-t-mmul. Then again, without the pointless “Plain Old” we’d have SHTML (shhh-t-mmul), which is something entirely different altogether. Let me explain my position on this…

Now then, it isn’t this acronym madness that pulls my chain, nor the fact that we now also have poshformats (I know, I know, what next?). No, I think I just don’t like the word “posh”. I’m not a person that worries about class, or needs to bang on about my “working class” roots or my disdain for the upper classes and their perceived “poshness”, but this newfangled acronym just makes me think of toffy-nosed polo-playing in-bred freaks.

Consult the great oracle (Wikipedia) and the Posh (disambiguation) entry will tell you immediately that “Posh is the term used to describe over-the-top luxuries affected by those with social pretensions”, and we also learn that “in the UK it often refers to people who speak according to received pronunciation, or with a posh accent”.

You disagree? OK, what about the incomparably pointless Victoria Beckham, AKA Posh Spice? No? Really? Oh, well what about Peterborough Football Club (the “Posh”)? Too obscure? Fair enough. How about POSH as an existing internet acronym, which teenage chatters use to explain that a Parent is Over their SHoulder? Then again, this multifaceted adjective can simply mean fashionable, luxurious, twit or maybe “a bit fancy” as in “Ooh, that’s a bit posh”.

Basically, it may well only be me, but I suspect that POSH goes down a lot better in the States than it does in grumpy old Britain. The word just conjures up too many other negatives in my head for me to ever have a sensible conversation about “POSH” without poking my eyes out as a punishment.

However, let my rant not distract you from the cold hard fact that plain old semantic HTML itself is a beautiful thing, and that data formats constructed from the use of semantic class names (“poshformats”) are worthy of your attention. The work done by the Microformats folks (some of whom I consider friends) has influenced us all, and I for one am very excited about microformats. I just resent the “coining” of new acronyms and terms that don’t really do anybody any favours, save for the “coiner” who possibly feels the same buzz as an astronomer who gets to name a new star.

Or, perhaps I’m first in a queue of one on this. If so, do tell me exactly how “POSH” is of greater benefit than “semantic HTML” as a learning tool, please. Either way, I’m just having fun here, so don’t go telling on me to Tantek.


# Lachlan Hardy responded on 17th January 2008 with...

I agree entirely. It doesn’t play to well in Australia either. I don’t know anybody who speaks of that acronym except with scorn.

I find it silly, pretentious and over the top (shoulder?). Nonetheless, I understand the argument made by the POSH advocates that a distinct term brings better recognition - I just wish this was not what they had chosen.

# Jason Cale responded on 17th January 2008 with...

Totally agree, it just rubs me the wrong way. I mean its about as useful an educational term as the bookies favourite ‘web 2.0’.

I deeply respect everything the guys/girls are doing in the microformats world, but I’d just feel silly using the term POSH out loud in front of people..

especially in my slurry brummie tones.

# Cuthbert responded on 17th January 2008 with...

POSH is just easily-written shorthand useful when making the distinction with AJAXy goodness.

No need to get your flat cap in a twist old boy.

# Simon Collison responded on 17th January 2008 with...

Lachlan: “...a distinct term brings better recognition” is a fair point, and I agree. That’s why AJAX works, even though in the UK that was a surface cleaner that our Mum’s used. Still, we got over that.

Cuthbert: Shorthand is a great thing, which is why I do like acronyms, initialisms, abbreviations etc (imagine our job without them - terrible). It is just POSH I don’t like as it is forced, and has so many other connotations.

Conversations that are of the “It needs to be POSH, with some AJAX, and look a bit Web 2 point Oh” are surely ridiculous when you think about it.

# Faruk Ates responded on 17th January 2008 with...

Jason hits the nail on the head in that POSH is simply not useful as an educational term, and that’s why I’ve ranted against it for a long time now (all largely IRL discussions and not online, lacking an active blog for over a year already).

POSH is a useless (mess of an) acronym that adds nothing but an additional barrier to entry for people wanting to learn about semantic HTML and the benefits thereof. It is also a superfluous and way too ambiguously interpretable acronym and Colly, you are far, far from the only or the first to feel this way about it, I can assure you.

I think the good people that coined the term, most of whom I consider friends as well, are pushing the boundaries too far ahead and are forgetting that we still have 95% of the world to get onboard with the whole standards idea in the first place. Or maybe they just don’t see that this unnecessary layer of acronyms and in-between discussion (discussion happening about subjects related to but not actually covering the point of semantic HTML) is counter-productive, rather than helpful.

# Faruk Ates responded on 17th January 2008 with...

“Conversations that are of the ”It needs to be POSH, with some AJAX, and look a bit Web 2 point Oh“ are surely ridiculous when you think about it.”

The very start of that sentence indicates the far greater and more serious problem: the use of proper, clean, semantic HTML should not even be a topic worthy of bringing up in conversation, it should be the standard modus operandi!

It should be a given that we use (“plain old”…*groan*) semantic HTML. Giving it an acronym is avoiding the actual debate, which is, why on Earth wouldn’t we?! that one should have with coworkers that would strike up such a conversation.

# Simon Collison responded on 17th January 2008 with...

Faruk: Welcome old chap - missed you ‘round these parts.

What I don’t get is why anyone would need to use the term “POSH” at all.

If you are in any way adept with the whole web standards movement, you’ll know what semantic HTML. You don’t need it to be repackaged to be more interesting. As you say Faruk, it should be a given already.

If you are brand spanking new to the whole responsible web thing, and someone introduces you to “POSH”, you’ll have to explain what it stands for. You’ll then have to also explain the “semantic HTML” part. So, that’s two explanations where one would do. And anyway, how is it “plain old…” to a novice?!

# Keith responded on 17th January 2008 with...

Whenever I see POSH I read “Piece Of SHit.”  :)

Since I was about 14 that’s how I’d abbreviate that phrase and old habits die hard.  I’ve got nothing major against the acronym itself, although I can’t really see myself using it much.

# Faruk Ates responded on 17th January 2008 with...

Thanks Colly! I missed being around and speaking up, but 2008 will be the year of my return™. :-)

My suspicion is that they just went one step too far in thinking “how can we market semantic HTML to more people”. That line of thinking worked for AJAX, but that was because AJAX (the technology, I mean) wasn’t easily communicable AND it was a brand-spanking new set of principles.

None of that applies nor is necessary for the “marketing” of semantic HTML as a principle and web development technique.

# Gareth responded on 17th January 2008 with...

Basically agree. Part of that is a personal, over-pedantic, anti-acronym thing (in that AJAX rather than Ajax bugs me ;-)

Having said that, are people actually using the term outside those that coined it? I can’t see it capturing the general audience but if it’s just intended as a shorthand for internal discussions then no real harm. Any suitably large or mature group tends to invent it’s own language, just listen your co-workers talk. Microformats is probably no different in this regard.

# Pete responded on 17th January 2008 with...

I agree, it’s silly and unnecessary. I thought it was somehow derived from the old telecom acronym, POTS, but apparently not.

# Matt Wilcox responded on 17th January 2008 with...

More agreement from me, I’m sick of hearing new abbreviations and acronyms, and POSH is the most redundant of them all. The ‘Plain Old’ is useless garbage to anyone ‘new’ to HTML, because it tells them sweet nothing, and the ‘Semantic’ bit is already intrinsic in HTML if you learn it right.

POSH is exactly what it sounds, an elitist acronym to help a certain section of the community feel better about themselves. Drop it, avoid confusion, learn HTML and Web Design properly.

# Simon Collison responded on 17th January 2008 with...

Gareth: Maybe its the prospect that people outside those that coined it will start using it readily, or have it forced upon them. Once a term is “out there” anything can happen, and aside from the topic pages on the Microformats wiki, I see it cropping up in more and more blog posts.

And I disagree that “Microformats is probably no different” as that’s a good example of a methodology that needed a term to help promote usage, and the word itself is neither an acronym, nor ambiguous in meaning. Actually, you’re probably referring to the Microformats group creating terms, not the word itself, so I’ll hush up.

# Kate Bolin responded on 17th January 2008 with...

The term just sets my teeth on edge.

However, is available—you could sip Pimms at the polo match whilst designing a new website, right?

# Wimy responded on 17th January 2008 with...

POSH: Port Over - Starboard Home…..

In the 20’s this was the way to travel in the Northern Hemisphere if you had enough money as you would be ensured of the sunny side of the ship!

There is nothing wrong with acronyms, once you know how and where they originated.

Btw: did you have a dull moment Simon?

# Simon Collison responded on 17th January 2008 with...

Wimy: “...did you have a dull moment Simon?”. No Wimy. Did you when you decided to leave a comment? And to reiterate, I agree that there is nothing wrong with acronyms, except for forced acronyms… and POSH.

# Andrew responded on 17th January 2008 with...

I have had those same objections for a while.

If an acronym is going to be created it should actually help to simplify things. The AJAX one is good, because it is actually useful. It shortens the technologies but also alludes to the methodology, so we even if we don’t use XML in the end, we still understand what we are talking about.

POSH, if anything, is an obfuscator as it adds an acronym that really just says, “do nothing different”, and then steps back to let everyone figure out which meaning you are referring to.

# Scott Nellé responded on 17th January 2008 with...

I move that we scale back this absurd acronym to Semantic HTML or SH.  That way, when we in the states inevitably ‘verb it’ (that is, start using it as a verb,) we can say “That markup doesn’t make sense.  Please SH it.”  :)

# Ben Darlow responded on 18th January 2008 with...

Totally agree with the points above! However, my biggest bugbear with POSH in this usage is that it’s a redundant term! If there’s such a thing as Plain Old Semantic HTML then it’s implied that anything that’s not POSH isn’t semantic. But HTML is supposed to be semantic in the first place! True, there is a lot of non-semantic HTML out there on the web, but that’s because it’s bad HTML.

The proliferation of terms like this makes me think that some folks just love the idea that it’s new and cool. Otherwise they’d realise that the concepts it espouses are quite old and unoriginal.

# Michael responded on 24th January 2008 with...

Thank you for this interesting article, which was published here.


# Tomasz Gorski responded on 27th January 2008 with...

“Basically, it may well only be me, but I suspect that POSH goes down a lot better in the States than it does in grumpy old Britain.” I agree but Beckham is now in States so maybe it will change in few years…

# jon a web designer responded on 30th January 2008 with...

I’m going on strike no more POSH

# Paul responded on 4th February 2008 with...

I just ran into POSH on another blog a few days ago, admit my first reaction was akin to revulsion, to “plain” and “old” and “POSH”.

Why not suggest a better acronym now while there still is a chance? Off the top of my head:

SUTSI - superior through simplicity…

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