“Governor” and “Boss”
Posted: 28 January 2010 03:01 AM   [ Ignore ]
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The British slang for one’s supervisor is “governor” or “gov”. The equivalent slang term in the United States is “boss”. I’ve found myself wondering about the origins of these terms as slang. The standard dictionary says that “boss” comes from the Dutch “baas” which means “master”. Is it right to conclude that “boss” came from the culture of American slavery? “Governor” on the other hand, connotes an official of government, at least in the United States, so how did it come to be used as a term for any supervisor in British slang? Does that reflect Britain’s monarchic history?

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Posted: 28 January 2010 03:32 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 1 ]
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Is it right to conclude that “boss” came from the culture of American slavery?

Welcome dactyl, but the answer is no. Any employee could (and can) call his employer his ‘baas’.

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Posted: 28 January 2010 06:10 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 2 ]
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I would argue that boss is not the equivalent “slang” word as it’s not a slang word in American English.

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Posted: 28 January 2010 06:31 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 3 ]
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Is it right to conclude that “boss” came from the culture of American slavery?

No. Its use pre-dates that culture - the first citation in the OED is from 1649.

“Governor” on the other hand, connotes an official of government, at least in the United States, so how did it come to be used as a term for any supervisor in British slang? Does that reflect Britain’s monarchic history?

No. According to the OED, governor in the sense boss is first attested in 1802, at which time the word was still in general use to mean “One who bears rule in an establishment, institution, society, etc.” - a sense which is now used only as an official title in a few institutions, e.g. the Bank of England. In 1802 the head of a school, almshouse, prison, factory or monastery might be described as its “governor”.

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Posted: 28 January 2010 06:56 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 4 ]
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No. Its use pre-dates that culture - the first citation in the OED is from 1649.

It looks like boss came into American English via the Dutch settlers in New York. One of the 17th century cites in the OED has a reference to Manhattan and there is an 1802 cite from Washington Irving, who relied heavily on New York Dutch vocabulary.

In 1802 the head of a school, almshouse, prison, factory or monastery might be described as its “governor”.

The term board of governors is still widely used in such institutions in the US, although I can’t think of an instance where individual board members are titled governor.

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Posted: 28 January 2010 07:13 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 5 ]
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Dactyl, I have heard guv and guv’nor and only as Cockney usage but I don’t get out much.

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Posted: 28 January 2010 08:07 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 6 ]
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Schools in the UK of, I believe I am correct in saying, all and every kind, are run by a representative committee called “the school governors”. Governors will be composed of representatives of the institution/authority that finances the school and, frequently, representatives from parents and teachers, and led by the chair(man/woman) of the governors. But they’d never be called “Governor so-and-so”.

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