Posh, toff and pukka compared.

Jacobtm

Senior Member
NY
English - New York
So I apparently don't speak English at all, only American. I read this Economist article, and at first didn't even KNOW what the word's "toff" and "pukka" meant. But now that I have a vague idea, I'm still lost on the distinctions, if any, though I realize that these words are very socially dependent and rather vague.

Here's exerpts of all the times they're used in the article:

No two ways about it, David Cameron is posh. Boris Johnson, the mayor of London, is posh.

One is against the toffs, epitomised in a recent swipe about Eton, Mr Cameron’s old school.


In recent decades the Conservatives have been as attuned to these nuances as anyone, preferring humble leaders to pukka ones; as far back as 1923 they picked Stanley Baldwin above Lord Curzon (“a most superior person”), partly for that reason.

http://www.economist.com/world/britain/displayStory.cfm?story_id=15065282&source=hptextfeature


So is David Cameron Posh, toff, and pukka? Can one be two of the three without being the third?

Thanks for any help with this weird language,
Jacob
 
Last edited by a moderator:
  • bluegiraffe

    Senior Member
    English - England
    It's UK slang.

    Posh is wrapped up the whole idea of "class". It means upper class. You can talk posh, have a posh accent or just be posh. I'm not posh. My parents were working class and I'm middle class.

    A toff is an aristocrat. So no, you don't have to be a toff to be posh. Usually toffs are posh though.

    Pukka is a ridiculous word used by TV Chef Jamie Oliver which, as far as I can make out, means "great". So you definitely don't have to be pukka to be a toff or posh.
     

    bluegiraffe

    Senior Member
    English - England
    Pukka is used lots in London. It means the genuine article. I have a feeling it has Hindi roots.
    In that case I apologise. I don't mean to cause offence if it is used. I thought it was just someone that I have a bit of an aversion to! It sounds strange mixed with my Nottingham dialect. Am I correct that it means "great"?
     

    Jacobtm

    Senior Member
    NY
    English - New York
    Taking this sentence into consideration:

    In recent decades the Conservatives have been as attuned to these nuances as anyone, preferring humble leaders to pukka ones; as far back as 1923 they picked Stanley Baldwin above Lord Curzon (“a most superior person”), partly for that reason.

    How can "pukka" mean genuine article here, when they're contrasting it with humble?
     

    ewie

    Senior Member
    English English
    Hello Jacob. I'd say that use of pukka is either (a) a new meaning of the word which hasn't yet reached me (as far as I'm concerned it only means 'genuine' or 'genuinely great', or (b) a misuse by someone who doesn't know what it means.
     

    cirrus

    Senior Member
    UK English
    preferring humble leaders to pukka ones; as far back as 1923 they picked Stanley Baldwin above Lord Curzon (“a most superior person”), partly for that reason.

    How can "pukka" mean genuine article here, when they're contrasting it with humble?
    My take would be that they opted for Baldwin precisely because he wasn't from the upper class (what they might have considered the authentic leaders). Presumably the thinking was that there was a backlash against toffs at the time.
     

    Loob

    Senior Member
    English UK
    Hello Jacob. I'd say that use of pukka is either (a) a new meaning of the word which hasn't yet reached me (as far as I'm concerned it only means 'genuine' or 'genuinely great', or (b) a misuse by someone who doesn't know what it means.
    Mmmm - I think you're focusing on the modern/slang meaning of pukka, young'un.

    In the past, it definitely had (inter alia) the meaning
    proper or correct in behaviour, socially acceptable
    source: OED
     

    panjandrum

    Lapsed Moderator
    English-Ireland (top end)
    Pants and Pukka: British English
    pukka expl. I almost put this in the "food and drink" category because it has been so popularised lately by Jamie Oliver, British TV's "Naked Chef". Something described as pukka is the genuine article; good stuff. It is derived from the Hindi word "pakka", meaning "substantial", and made it to the UK via the Colonies. http://septicscompanion.com/showletter.php?letter=p

    Long ago, when tales of the Raj were common, the term pukka sahib was equally common.
    pukka sahib n. a person (usually a man) of good family, ability, or credentials; one who is socially acceptable

    Jamie Oliver and others have simply extended the use of pukka to mean, generally, excellent.
     
    Last edited:

    entangledbank

    Senior Member
    English - South-East England
    *shows age* Okay, I only knew about pukka sahibs. Have never heard this zoetrope cook person using it.

    To return to our muttons, I think posh is a fairly passive thing - you grow up, you're brought up, being posh, and it can be effortlessly natural. To me, toff and toffy are fairly aggressive - you're part of an elite and you're darned sure you're going to show you belong there. Nose turns up.

    A pukka sahib is a damned decent fellow, one who does the right thing, a 'white man' (another expression fallen into disfavour). Naturally the best people are on the whole pukka sahibs. If a chap goes out to India with another chap, he doesn't expect to be fleeced at cards or to have the other chap run away with his wife. He expects the other chap to be pukka.
     

    Aelius Valerius

    New Member
    English - Britain
    Pukka is a very versatile word. The Hobson-Jobson gives sundry meanings and uses:

    - a pukka brick = one that is burnt and not just baked in the sun
    - pukka built = strongly built, made of stone
    - a pukka house = solidly built
    - a pukka road = road with stone surface rather than a dirt road
    - a pukka appointment = permanent, not temporary
    - a pukka colour = colour that will wash, is water resistant
    - a pukka roof = solid roof, not a thatched one
    - pukka news = reliable news

    The OED mentions:

    - of full weight, genuine e.g. Is the banknote pukka or counterfeit?
    - certain, reliable, authentic, true, proper, socially acceptable; e.g. Wilkins isn't pukka. (He's not behaving in a socially acceptable way)
    - permanent (a building or position of employment)

    Pukka is more common in demotic usage than in formal contexts though it does appear sometimes.
    In British military parlance the expression 'pukka gen' is common; it means reliable information. Like other military language it is also sometimes used by civilians.

    Other uses I've seen or heard are:
    - to make a pukka effort (make a real effort)
    - a pukka bed (a real bed, not a camping bed)
    - pukka parliament (the real, not the fake one)
    - pukka food versus junk food
    - How are you feeling? Pretty pukka. (Pretty good)
     

    se16teddy

    Senior Member
    English - England
    The assumption of the sentence is that in the natural order of things the leader of the Conservative party is from an appropriate - that is, pukka - family, meaning an aristocratic or at least a very wealthy (but not of course nouveau riche) family. There was a period from the 1970s to the 1990s when his was not the case, but we are back on track now.

    I say this is the assumption of the sentence. It may not be the assumption of the author, who may be spoofing the assumption of the sentence.
     
    Last edited:

    Aelius Valerius

    New Member
    English - Britain
    we are back on track now

    Though one must wonder how any family can stay pukka if they get so closely involved in politics. It would seem to be mutually exclusive.
     

    PaulQ

    Senior Member
    UK
    English - England
    Entangledbank's post #12 is definitive (and very funny)

    In Bengali, Pukka is the opposite of Khachha. The latter, when used by the British of the Raj, means, unripe (of fruit); not quite completed but nevertheless used for its purpose; built of native materials; not quite to the required standard - "He lived in a khachha hut."
     
    Top