On the sunny side

The invented etymology of posh—which says it’s an acronym for “port out, starboard home”—is utterly bogus. Nevertheless, when I book airline seats I always try to get a window on the shady side. Photography is easier with the sun at your back. This morning, however, I was on the sunny side southbound out of Boston. The photographic result was fairly curious.

boat wakes in strong sunlight, Elizabeth Islands, MA

You might think you’re looking at a snowy landscape here, with bits of two lakes intruding into the left and right edges of the frame. But the lakes are actually islands, and the white field between them is the sea, with the specular reflection of the sun in the upper lefthand corner. Under these lighting conditions, it seems that small variations in angle or texture cause huge differences in brightness. It’s Snell’s Law in action.

A detail from a second frame—two was all I caught—shows the interference patterns in the boat wakes even more clearly.

closeup of boat wakes and wave interference

Here is the uncropped and unenhanced version of the first image. (Uncropped but with grossly reduced pixel count.)

Wakes 0814 900

The two islands are part of an archipelago that extends southwest from Woods Hole on Cape Cod, between the mainland and Martha’s Vineyard. I believe these two are Pasque Island on the left and Nashawena Island on the right. Wikipedia tells me that almost all of these islands, which are known as the Elizabeths, are owned by the Forbes family. How posh!

This entry was posted in photography.

3 Responses to On the sunny side

  1. Sesh says:

    I didn’t know the “port out, starboard home” story was bogus. Why do you say so? What is the correct etymology then?

  2. John Cowan says:

    Etymology Online is quite reliable for these things:

    posh (adj.)
    1914, of uncertain origin; no evidence for the common derivation from an acronym of port outward, starboard home, supposedly the shipboard accommodations of wealthy British traveling to India on the P & O Lines (to keep their cabins out of the sun); see objections outlined in G. Chowdharay-Best, “Mariner’s Mirror,” Jan. 1971. More likely from slang posh “a dandy” (1890), from thieves’ slang meaning “money” (1830), originally “coin of small value, halfpenny,” possibly from Romany posh “half.”

    The cavalryman, far more than the infantryman, makes a point of wearing “posh” clothing on every possible occasion — “posh” being a term used to designate superior clothing, or articles of attire other than those issued by and strictly conforming to the regulations. [E. Charles Vivian, "The British Army From Within," London, 1914]

    The fact is that there are many words whose etymology is uncertain or completely unknown, and there probably always will be.

  3. Martin says:

    Beautiful photographs and yes I really did think it was ice/snow with 2 lakes intruding from the left and right.

    So obvious once you pointed it out though!

    Love the patterns…


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