boss

Definitions

General English

Commerce

  • noun an employer or person in charge of a company or an office

Construction

  • A projecting block, usually ornamental, placed at the exposed intersection or termination of ribs or beams of a structure.
  • The enlarged portion of a shaft.
  • In masonry, a stone that is left protruding from the surface for carving in place at a later time.
  • A projection left on a cast pipe fitting for alignment or for gripping with tools.

Law

  • noun the head of a mafia family or other criminal gang

Slang

  • adjective excellent, first-rate, superlative. Currently a fashionable word among teenagers all over the English-speaking community, boss originated in American black street jargon of the early 1960s. It was picked up by other speakers, but it remained an Americanism. (The music industry attempted to promote the ‘Boss town sound’ in order to establish Boston as the US equivalent of Liverpool in 1964; Duane Eddy had a 1960s hit with Boss Guitar.) In the 1970s and 1980s the usage spread through the language of disco, funk and rap to the young of Britain and Australia.
  • noun a term of address for a stranger or friend, like blood, bredren, cuz, bro’, etc. An item of black street-talk used especially by males, recorded in 2003 in the UK

Origin & History of “boss”

English has two words boss, of which the more familiar is far more recent; both are fairly obscure in origin. We know that boss ‘chief’ (19th c.) comes from Dutch baas ‘master’ (it was introduced to American English by Dutch settlers), but where Dutch got the word from we do not know for certain. Boss ‘protuberance’ (13th c.) was borrowed from Old French boce, which comes from an assumed general romance *botja, but there the trail goes cold.

Boss-eyed (19th c.) and boss shot ‘bungled attempt’ (19th c.) are both usually assumed to come from, or at least be connected with a 19th-century English dialect verb boss ‘bungle’, of unknown origin.
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