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Why You Should Never Call Anyone “Boss”

Updated on May 9, 2011

Here I thought that there would be certain phrases that we would never have to hear again. You know, like "Cowabunga" from when the Simpsons first came out or "What's uaaaaaaaaaaap?" from that insipid commercial. You know things like that. Well recently I've noticed a trend, mostly used by young men who are finishing washing your car or giving you your dry cleaning. They finish the transaction with, "There you go, boss." And I hate it ever so much. Why you should never call anyone "Boss" - Don't Get Me Started!

Perhaps it's just that I am not the "bossy" type (much more of a Linus than a Lucy) or that I consider myself one of the masses, a worker and not a boss. Now I'm sure if I was writing this back in the 1950s the House on Un-American Activities would have all ready shut down my blog and blacklisted me because this definitely sounds as if I'm celebrating the worker over "the man" but let's be thankful for the small strides we've made as a culture, shall we?

For some reason that phrase or use of that word just hits me like lemon juice in a paper cut (of which I had happen this week and let me just tell you that if that doesn't send you reeling I don't know what will). You see the whole, "there you go, boss" is a phrase that I think you'd hear the black train porter saying in a 1930s movie and it always just seemed wrong to me even in that context (frankly all of the above seemed wrong - blacks only being allowed to be porters, etc. you hopefully get the idea).

I'm sure I'm beyond not "with it" and that no doubt some comedian or moron who has their own show on MTV started using the phrase because the only way that these phrases come in, out and back into the vernacular of the teen race is because someone said it on some reality show somewhere.

Even reading this I'm sure that I'm overreacting and that most people have no idea what I'm going on about but you see I just think that phrases that put one race, person or whatever down or makes them subservient to you seems a bit demeaning and demoralizing. Now I'm sure the kids who are saying it don't have all the baggage I do or think this way (otherwise they wouldn't be using it hopefully) but for those of us who have seen the world for longer than 16 years, we can't help but read more into the words that are used. And some things frankly deserve to be left frozen in time (not unlike the man I saw on a motorized scooter in the grocery store with a large confederate flag bouncing around on a long piece of plastic).

If people really want to use the term, "boss" again, I would ask that instead of using it to refer to a person they think of it more as a way to say, "far out", "Hellaya" or "Cool" as in "That new shirt is boss that you're wearing." A gal pal of mine years ago tried to lobby me to begin using the word, "boss" like this but it just didn't seem as if it was time. Now with seemingly every teenage I encounter calling me "boss" I believe we've found its time. Sort of like being the Ernest and Julio Gallo of phrases, "We will use no phrase before its time." (Yes, you have to be at least forty to get this reference) Why you should never call anyone "Boss" - Don't Get Me Started!



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      Tony Mazz 2 years ago

      So I am at a Long Island boat yard cleaning and painting my wooden boat. (an anachroism already). Next to me a group of young men show up between the ages of 25 and 35 ( I am 66). They begin to detail (clean and polish) a fiberglass boat. One of the men is wearing a Los Angeles Laker hat. I (old wise ass NYC kid that I am ) said (where in LA are you from? ) One of the other men started to laugh. I said I was a Knick fan. One of the other men said they were too. We both start working on our boats. Time passes. One of the guys is splashing water (accidentally) and some hits near my boat. They apologize and ask if its ok. They actually said, (sorry boss)! I reel against this term as I take it as an insult. I told them so (with a smile) I said did you know that calling someone of my age ( and color ) is a perforative term. Blank stares. I explained the term perforative. The light bulb lit on one of their faces, a second scowled and the Laker Fan smirked. I explained once again that the term boss when used in this context was considered sassy, insulting aka pejorative etc. I explained I was not their boss. I was just working alongside them. We left friends. And, I, after decades of hearing this term, finally expressed my feelings.

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      Danny 2 years ago

      When an employee calls you, "sir/ma'am" they're feeding you part of a speech that they have been given, by their employer. While giving said speech they're thinking about how they could care less about you. Be thankful they're chilling giving you're lame ass a nickname.

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      joey 2 years ago

      Just got called boss twice by a young lady working for WWF in Sydney airport, I found it so annoying I told her she should get some training in sales and stop being so patronising.....I even got driven to googling it and finding this forum!

      To me it's the same as calling someone chief, it gives the customer a feeling that you're not genuine and is extremely annoying

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      yo 2 years ago

      I think I know the real reason why you don't like the word boss. I felt the exact same way as you, I don't like it either, but I've come to tolerate it because it's really not meant to be in any malicious way.

      But it's the simple fact that most people don't like their bosses.....bosses usually oppress their workers. And it's also self demeaning, at the same time, which seemingly implies that you, the boss, are doing something to demean them or are acting oppressively.

      But yea, it's really nothing, they are just acting stupid, so let them be stupid and self demeaning. Any person with self respect wouldn't want to call someone else boss, what kind of freedom loving individual would want to be the slave?

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      Franco 3 years ago

      Tx Cop and Boss are correct. I hear this term from guys that have served time in prison. Usually tattooed all over working in some service industry.

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      PowerPerson 3 years ago

      Yes, "Boss" may come from the Dutch but the word was used in Dutch-based Afrikaans during apartheid South Africa. It was what Blacks were supposed to call their white masters/leaders. Its brazenly bad when whites use it but blacks shouldn't use it either. Those using the term are using reverse psychology like when an adult calls a child an adult title like "Sir" which is exclusively for grown-ups. The adult knows he/she is superior but wants to make the child feel special. Its patronizing. Whites & blacks calling blacks "Boss" is like this. This word is specific to only to black males. so its suspect. Blacks are brainwashed into accepting this title by the media. Singer NEYO and kid media too are trying to convert the term to mean only "cool." But the damage has been done. The term "chief" is as bad as "boss." The bad term test is always this: If you're a minority and wouldn't DARE call a white man or any woman a particular name then DON'T ever use that name 'cause its been designed especially for YOU to be put down with. Its true that words can't physically hurt you but those who always use the "sticks&stones.." credo are usually of a people/race/group etc that have no powerful racial epithet used on them to put them down and symbolize YEARS of prejudice (...i.e. the N-Word used against blacks ). "Boss" and "Chief" are used to put down black males no matter who uses the them. These terms need to GO AWAY!

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      tx cop 3 years ago

      I find these comments interesting. In law enforcement someone calls us boss it is an automatic clue that the person has done time in jail or prison. Inmates will typically refer to jailers as a boss. Sometimes this is used as a term of respect tho many it is a derogatory term that stands for Big Ol Sack of S**t.

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      MannyVel 3 years ago

      I personally (61/Black/Spanish/Guitarist/IT Tech and a some Hippy from the 70's), can not stand the word because it just seems like another derogatory term from the days of slavery or the Italian Mob days or just making it seem that your "Employer" is some GOD compared to employees which they are NOT. In my book respect is EARNED not "titled" or demanded. Personally, I'll have no parts of ............ "BOSS" !!!

      So there, now I can go get a good nights sleep :-D

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      redbengal74 3 years ago

      I think everyone is over reacting. Ive been called Boss,Sir,Chief and it never bothered me. I tend to lean toward being serious all the time. So i think that's why. Doesn't bother me and im not easily offended anyway. But its a lot better than Fuckface or Douchebag. So? Whatevs

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      Bossman Octavious ONeal 3 years ago

      This is the most absurd and racist crap I have ever seen. Since who gave you people the right to decide what offends us Black people???? Even you "black" people. Go find something more PRODUCTIVE to whine and cry about.

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      Mark 4 years ago

      What people need to think about is the fact that many people feel being called Boss is very disrespectful, If you have respect for someone that you don't really know very well, understand that if you use this term theres a damn good chance they will feel disrespected regardless of how you meant it! If you don't care about this fact, than I can fully understand why you call people Boss.

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      boss 5 years ago

      i work in secruity and when i help people sometimes they call me boss and its not disrespectful o anything bad they are just recognizing my authority in the work plack. and im a big black guy too, aller and bigger you are the more they call you boss. blame rick ross

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      Chris 5 years ago

      Sure, every single time I use the word boss it is because I absolutely LOATHE the person i'm talking to.

      You don't like the word, fine. I don't like the sound of Styrofoam rubbing up against itself. My big problem is that there are some that automatically assume the person using the word is "stupid, childish, ignorant, uneducated, etc, etc." There are words that are universally bad. They're the ones you can't mention on TV, the ones you can't type out, or really say. Boss isn't one of them. Thus, I find it incredibly difficult for someone to reasonably explain how the usage justifies assuming ones ignorance and lack of respect. How about you judge the person and their current actions as opposed to the usage of a word that's nowhere near the racial, stereotypical, prejudiced, and hateful slurs that aren't acceptable?

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      Robert 5 years ago

      I am from the north, New Hampshire. Moved down south, Florida. I have a strong New England accent. The rude people that I met in Florida would be disrespectful to me by calling me "boss". What I found most disrespectful was the way they said it. I always "clear the air", and let them know, do not call me boss, period. It is a way to offend.

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      PP 5 years ago

      BOSS is derogatory and anyone that says it is not is fooling themselves

      if anyone has every called you BOSS - you can feel the dislike - it is like the phase "you're not the BOSS of me" it is not the word the feeling behind it and the feeling behind the word BOSS is always a bad one.

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      Jason 5 years ago

      I work in the hospitality industry and I find it patronizing when someone uses it. It's like calling me "sport". My thought process is "I don't know you, you don't know me, referring to me as 'boss' is too familiar and disrespectful".

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      Jeffrey O'Keefe 5 years ago

      This terminology is a really annoying especially when people using it know your name.

      I think its a put down in a roundabout way,and anyone calling me boss never gets a tip,even if I think they deserve it,say mr Smith or Hi whatever you occupation is,but boss is a no no for me.

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      Boss 5 years ago

      the word boss actually refers to a prison guard or detention officer. It is used because of the inmates bieng told what to do all the time. hence boss. Instead of saying Sir, which is a sign of respect...they use boss so that respect is not gained and the inmates do not use your real name.

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      Bored 5 years ago

      This article is worthless reading.

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      Chris 5 years ago

      "The people saying it may not be racist, they are just ignorant to the past usage of the term, and throw it around cause hip hoppers say it thinking it's cool"

      By this logic, I can also be deemed ignorant if I don't keep up with the definition of any other word. Once again, language evolves deal with it. Ever hear a cigarette referred to as a fag? ah-uh.

      Humans just absolutely LOVE to centralize themselves EVERYWHERE.

      Listen Bossbro-dude ("oh my god you just did not how dare you?" ): If I call you boss I am referring to the fact that you are in a somewhat superior position than I am at that moment. I don't necessarily mean "you are below me and skin color has everything to do with our interaction right now... and oh yeah, you are nothing and I hate you."

      I'm at the store, someone calls me sir do I take offense in my old age? Seriously, unless it happens to be a demeaning interaction, just calmly educate and let it go. Don't go around referring to others as "ignorant" because you feel it is a definition of the racial prejudice that goes on. Pish posh. PISH POSH I SAY.

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      somelikeitscott 5 years ago from Las Vegas

      James - Obviously, I'm with you on this one!

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      James Smith 5 years ago

      I completely agree. There is no looking for hate here. You may be from a different culture, but to blacks this is derogatory, plan and simple. The people saying it may not be racist, they are just ignorant to the past usage of the term, and throw it around cause hip hoppers say it thinking it's cool. I am black, and only white people say it to me when they feel intimidated. I run a business and none of my clients call me boss. That is because they respect me and call me by name even though I am clearly the boss of my business. Wise up.

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      KarstenJ 5 years ago

      Ok... lol hold up lemme get my laughter out.. alright. So your saying you don't like being called boss because its racist? That's a joke. In godfather they say it all the time.. Not a "black" sayin it to a "white" but from one Sicilian to the other. Its a sign of respect. I think your looking for hate in the wrong place.

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      Smashicus 6 years ago

      "Boss" is smartass, I'm not signing your frikkin paycheck so don't call me boss, or dude. I will settle for my name, sir or nothing at all.

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      TBrown 6 years ago

      If I call you boss it's offensive to you, not me...I'm black

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      somelikeitscott 6 years ago from Las Vegas

      Ben, I'm not black but I'm with you. For some reason that term just hits me the wrong way.

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      Ben 6 years ago

      Interesting comments. Personally I hate the word. My experience. Once while paying for some items I had bought, the sales clerk said, "thanks boss". I replied that he didn't have to call me boss, to which he replied, "What do you want me to call you? Sir? Things went very bad after that. I was raised to call people "sir or "mame"(?) or just a simple thanks or thank you. Being black, words such as bubba, sport, guy, bro, dude,hoss(I kinda like that one) and the rest don't bother me, because they are usually said with a smile. But "boss" is like fingernails on a chalkboard to me. Just my opinion.

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      Levi 6 years ago

      is not like were callin em massa

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      Chris 6 years ago

      I can't see why anyone would take a serious insult to being called boss. Seriously, get over yourself. Language evolves and it is all within context. Christ.

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      Jay 6 years ago

      Calling someone boss has no derogatory racial connotations at all, if anything it has the opposite effect. Young people call each other boss to show that there is not the inequality between races that there used to be. Its like black people calling each other 'nigger'. The word is used in a different, relaxed context to address someone.

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      George 6 years ago

      Really, it's the same as calling someone Dude. I'm in Brooklyn, and it's not just a kid thing to say. the 50 year old guy at the pizza shop calls me boss. the bartender at the local dive calls me boss. i call everyone else boss. i'm 28. it's normal. it's okay.

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      Tom 6 years ago

      Well, my story is a little different. I am 18 right now, but when I turned 16 till now, a lot of people I don't know call me BOSS. I am not offended. But I am 18 and older people call me boss. I don't have the issue with teenagers calling me it. I am also white, so there goes the racial theory. But all the people that call me Boss seem to be in their 30s at least and they are all different races. Is it their way of showing me respect? I am a little buff, so I always figured that it meant they were respecting me because I looked like the type that was "in charge".

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      norcal 7 years ago

      I think it's similar to the old British expression "gov'nor." No particular offense is meant or should be taken.

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      lori Bartlett 7 years ago

      I would like anyone of you to show me where you get this is a racial slur "BOSS" I have researched this and no where have I found it to be a racial slur. The orgin of the word BOSS 1635

      That base was the Dutch word we now know as boss. Ironically, boss Gardiner was building a fort to keep out the Dutch, who had settled New Amsterdam (later New York) to the south. But the English language readily admitted the Dutch word. And boss grew in popularity over the years, gradually taking the place of master as the latter became associated with slavery. "As I would not be a slave, so I would not be a master," in Lincoln's later words. Boss was plain and emphatic, too, making it a useful informal substitute for words like employer, supervisor, and foreman.

      boss - "nice" - "that girl is boss exse

      boss - a salute to an unfamiliar person, or person in authority (usually to a male), as in 'you know what it is boss'.

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      Melissa 7 years ago

      It's a racial slur. I used to cringe when I would hear my ex say it to random strangers. "Thank you, boss." He's white. Maybe he didn't know that black people would call white people "boss" to be derogatory.

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      fireball34 8 years ago

      I think the term boss, for some people is a way of showing your respect to a pay customer or leader. What you said about people not knowing an orgin of a word is, right on the money. I didn't know that Boss was an insult to African Americans. So you have educated me today-

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      Risu 9 years ago

      You're right. Calling someone "Boss" is not boss, Boss. On the bright side, these kids will get to be our age and write blogs (or whatever they'll be called 20, 30 years from now) about how stupid the trends are. Of course, society's so extensive that there is no way that a stupid term here and there can be exempt. Kids spout gravity because they're too young to know how to feel it, which is why they talk degradingly. The bright side? Most of these kids aren't holding guns or shooting anyone on the job. The words may be upsetting, but they won't kill you.

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      Dave 9 years ago

      That really ircks me too. The guy in the drive thru today used it 3 times to me. It really made me feel like punching him in the head. I am a non-violent person by nature but for some reason that really gets under my skin

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      Grayson 9 years ago

      Makes me uncomfortable too. It makes me cringe every time I hear that 17 year old wannabe come up with these dumb phrases on American Idol. Randy Jackson!!! Bjuck!! (not a bjork fan either) Molten hot bomb? Give me a break!!!