‘Boss’: From a Head Honcho in Dutch to a Rock Star in the U.S.A.

From The Wall Street Journal:

Earlier this year, New Jersey Gov. Phil Murphy announced that Bruce Springsteen’s birthday, Sept. 23, would be formally recognized by the state as Bruce Springsteen Day. “Truth be told, I know my place in the hierarchy of New Jersey,” Murphy joked when presenting the official proclamation. “After all, I may be the 56th individual to be called ‘governor,’ but there will ever only be just one ‘Boss.’”

The moment was reminiscent of the 2016 ceremony in which then-President Barack Obama bestowed Springsteen with the Presidential Medal of Freedom. “I am the president, he is ‘The Boss,’” Obama acknowledged.

Springsteen himself has never been fond of the nickname. Biographers have said have said that early in his career, his bandmates called him “The Boss” when he collected money from concert venues to distribute to the band. That appellation extended to his onstage authority, and the music press picked up on it when he became a star in the mid-1970s.

In a 1980 interview, Springsteen plainly stated, “I hate bosses. I hate being called the boss.” His reluctance to embrace the word “boss” is understandable given the way it has been used both approvingly and disapprovingly over its history.

“Boss” first entered English during the American colonial era, when settlers from England and the Netherlands interacted along the Atlantic coast. In Dutch, the word “baas” meant “master” and could refer to an employer or foreman overseeing workers. A fuller form, “werkbaas,” or “work-boss,” was used by Massachusetts Bay Colony governor John Winthrop in a 1635 journal entry about an engineer building fortifications.

Early usage of “boss” centered in New York, where Dutch influence was the strongest, spreading out to other regions in the 19th century. In her 2009 book “Cookies, Coleslaw, and Stoops: The Influence of Dutch on the North American Languages,” Dutch linguist Nicoline van der Sijs observed that “boss” was “an acceptable alternative to ‘master’” for English settlers who “wanted to do away with the hierarchical relations customary in their homeland.” As the English traveler James Flint wrote in an 1818 letter from America, “‘Master’ is not a word in the vocabulary of hired people. ‘Bos,’ a Dutch one of similar import, is substituted.”

While “boss” may have originally sounded better than “master” to American ears, it would not be long before more negative connotations began creeping in. In the 1860s, when William M. Tweed rose in the ranks to take control of New York City’s government, he earned the title “boss,” and newspapers began to label him regularly as “Boss Tweed.” As the extent of Tweed’s rampant corruption in his Tammany Hall political machine became widely known, the word “boss” was tarnished, with “bossism” coming to refer to the domination of a political organization by a single dictatorial leader. In the early 20th century, “boss” worked its way into the criminal underworld as well, as in “mob boss” or “gang boss.”

Link to the rest at The Wall Street Journal

1 thought on “‘Boss’: From a Head Honcho in Dutch to a Rock Star in the U.S.A.”

  1. Bruce Springsteen never went to college and as a result developed an inferiority complex. He compensated for this by espousing what used to be known as political correctness but is now called wokeness, which boils down to the notion that college professors should run the world. Not surprisingly, 99% of all college professors believe this.

    The idea that working men–the very group that Springsteen ostensibly champions–should get an actual say in how society operates when it comes to those matters that most directly affect them, such as trade policy, immigration, and war, are regarded with horror by college professors and therefore by Springsteen too.

    It is easy to spot a chump. He’s the guy who can be bought off with just a pat on the head.

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