Did you know that October 16 was both National Boss Day AND World Dictionary Day? (I know, I’m a week late, blame the pandemic.) And so with serendipity comes etymology…
The Middle English word for “lump” is “boce.” From that we get “boss,” or protuberance. It’s common on plants and animals, and also in architecture meaning “stud” or ornamental projection. There’s a boss which forms the hub of a propeller on a boat. Which you may need if you ever cross a “boss of water,” meaning a river’s head or a reservoir.
You can take a boss and hit other things with it, also known as “embossing.” Makes for a nice ornamentation. In bookbinding, the addition of a boss adds protection to the edges or front cover. Plumbers faced with an irregular surface may need to boss some metal to conform with it. Masons may carry their mortar in a boss, not sure why.
A young bull who has a boss-like horn on his head may want to emboss the rear end of a farmer with it. Such a young calf is known familiarly as a “boss,” “burse” or “buss” (who may or may not become a stud). Perhaps distantly related to this is the Scottish use of boss to mean “hollow” or “empty.”
Does this mean you work for an “empty-headed bull”? Not necessarily. That variant of boss comes from the Dutch, “baas,” which means “master” but not “owner.” It became popular in colonial America to mean leader of a business or a political machine. Or even just someone you don’t really know but want to show respect to, know what I mean, boss?
And what about things that are really cool? Such things tend to stick out in your mind. Which makes them pretty boss.
So, boss, here’s to Boss Day, and hoping you work for a boss boss, and not some bossy buss.
– Mike Keeler