Boss-eyed
Posted: 24 July 2014 04:53 PM   [ Ignore ]
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It just occurred to me that I had no idea about the first element here, boss. OED has this:

boss-eyed, adj.

Etymology:  Compare boss v.3, boss-shot n.

dial. and slang.

Having only one good eye; squint-eyed, cross-eyed. Also fig. oblique, crooked, one-sided.

1860 J. C. Hotten Dict. Slang (ed. 2)
1882 E. L. Chamberlain Gloss. West Worcs. Words, Boss-eyed, squinting.
1890 J. S. Farmer Slang, Boss, to miss one’s aim; to make such a shot as a boss-eyed person would be expected to make. Boss-shot is a common phrase.
1898 Eng. Dial. Dict. (at cited word), The horse shied and we ran up against the gate-post, and knocked the step of the cart all boss-eyed.
1959 I. Opie & P. Opie Lore & Lang. Schoolchildren xi. 214 It is unlucky for a cross-eyed woman to look at you… When somebody who is boss-eyed goes by you spit on the ground.

Etymology for boss, v.3 simply reflects back to boss-eyed and boss-shot.

boss, v.3

Etymology:  Compare boss-eyed adj., boss-shot n.

dial. and slang.

trans. To miss or bungle (a shot); gen. to bungle, make a mess of. Also absol.

1887 N. & Q. III. 236/2 To boss is schoolboy slang for ‘to miss’.
1889 A. Barrère & C. G. Leland Dict. Slang (at cited word), To boss anything, to make a mess of it, to spoil it.
1898 Eng. Dial. Dict. (at cited word), He had six shies at the cocoa-nuts, and he bossed every time.
1903 ‘Marjoribanks’ Fluff-hunters 74 You’re simply bossing up the whole show by philandering with a widow.

Here’s the definition of boss-shot and earliest cite.

a. A bad shot or aim; fig. an unsuccessful attempt.

1890 J. S. Farmer Slang, Boss, to miss one’s aim; to make such a shot as a boss-eyed person would be expected to make. Boss-shot is a common phrase.

BTW I see no obvious American citations above. Is boss-eyed used in the States?

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Posted: 24 July 2014 06:53 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 1 ]
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Is boss-eyed used in the States?

I’ve never heard it.

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Posted: 24 July 2014 07:19 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 2 ]
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Didn’t they ban boss-eyed?

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Posted: 24 July 2014 09:13 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 3 ]
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If you’d like some uneducated speculation…

Boss can mean “sticking out”. Might be connected to that.

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Posted: 25 July 2014 02:48 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 4 ]
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The “having only one good eye” definition is what jumps out at me. The boss of a shield is the central, round protuberance (OED, boss, n.1, sense 3.a.). So a boss-eye is single, prominent eye, or so I would surmise. The squint-eyed, oblique, bad aim senses would seem to be developments of this original one.

And no, I’ve never heard boss-eyed in North American speech.

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Posted: 25 July 2014 05:30 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 5 ]
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I’ve never heard or read it until now.

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Posted: 26 July 2014 02:11 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 6 ]
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Any possibility it could be related to bos? I remember from my youth that any random dairy cow was Bossy or Bossie, and cow eyes seem, more or less, to fit the description.

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Posted: 27 July 2014 12:08 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 7 ]
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Etymonline gives the origin of “boss” in the protuberance sense as being from old French boce.
In modern French “bossu” translates to “hunchback” as in “le Bossu de Notre Dame”.  Depictions of such people are usually unkind and feature eyes that stick out and point in different directions.  So I wondered if the same association may have been made in English at some time?  However I can’t find any examples of this use of “boss” in English.

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Posted: 27 July 2014 04:27 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 8 ]
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The OED has boss as in a hunchback’s hump (sense 2.b.). It’s obsolete, with two citations from the fifteenth century and one from the nineteenth. I don’t know if that last represents a use that survived through the centuries—unlikely, but it could be the OED’s record is full of holes, the entry is over a century old—or if it represents a deliberate attempt to revive an old word. Nothing about eyes though.

The idea that it comes from a hunchback’s eyes is needlessly complicated, though. There are much simpler, more likely routes.

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Posted: 27 July 2014 11:10 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 9 ]
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In addition:

A dictionary of Slang and Unconventional English
By Eric Partridge

boss up. To manage or run (a house, its servants); to keep in order; act as the ‘boss’ over; servants’ coll.: C20.  App. Ex S. Africa.  Francis E. Brett Young, Pilgrim’s Rest, 1936, ‘She was always breaking in on their trivialities, getting things done, “bossing them up” , as they called it on the Reef’ on the Rand,—2. Hence, v.i., to work hard: S. African: C.20 Brett Young, op. cit.

boss up! Take care!:  S. African coll,: from ca.  1890 Ex Cape Dutch pas op!, look out!  Pettman aligns Ger. Passen sie auf!

bossaroo. A ‘boss kangaroo’:  Aus. Coll.:  from ca. 1870 B. & L.

bossers.  Spectacles: ca. 1870-1910.  Prob.  ex boss-eyed, q.v.

bosso. A look or glance: low: C.20 (Margery Allingham, Look to the lady, 1931.) Perhaps orig.  a squint; if so, then prob. ex boss-eyed on dekko.

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Posted: 27 July 2014 05:28 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 10 ]
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languagehat - 25 July 2014 05:30 AM

I’ve never heard or read it until now.

I bet you have, if you’ve read DH Lawrence’s The Rainbow, and I can’t believe a well-read fellow such as yourself hasn’t:

“There’s some roads a man has to be led, an’ there’s some roads a boss-eyed man can only follow wi’ one eye shut. But this road can’t be lost by a blind man nor a boss-eyed man nor a cripple — and he’s neither, thank God.”

Since “boss” looks to be possibly connected to an old Germanic word meaning “beat, knock” (according to the OED), I wonder if “boss-eyed” originally meant “looking as if one eye had been knocked sideways”. The fact that it appears completely unknown in American English certainly suggests it was once, at least, an obscure dialect term in English - my feeling if that many Britons today would at least have heard the expression, but it doesn’t seem to be common even now, with only two mentions, appartently, in the BCA

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Posted: 28 July 2014 06:52 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 11 ]
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I bet you have, if you’ve read DH Lawrence’s The Rainbow, and I can’t believe a well-read fellow such as yourself hasn’t

I’m touched by your faith, but I’m afraid the only Lawrence I’ve read is the famous (and long-banned) one.  I’ve only read one novel each by Hardy and Dickens (and those were assigned in high school), and nothing at all by Thomas Mann.  “Well-read” is always a relative term, and every minute I’ve spent reading Russian books is a minute I haven’t spent reading books of other nations.  But I regret nothing!

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Posted: 28 July 2014 11:04 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 12 ]
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There’s a game among English PhDs (I haven’t played, but I’ve had it described to me), where the contestants name books they haven’t read. You score points if you’re the only one who hasn’t read it. The point being that the embarrassment cancels out the points. If you’ve got a PhD in English Lit and haven’t read Hamlet, you score both big points and a deeply red face, but likely will score nothing and suffer no embarrassment for not having read Finnegans Wake.

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Posted: 29 July 2014 05:59 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 13 ]
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"[David] Lodge invented a literary parlour game called ‘Humiliation’ in Changing Places, which remains popular at dinner parties. Players name classics of literature that they have not read, the winner being the one who exhibits the most woeful literary lacuna. In Changing Places, Lodge’s obnoxious American academic, Howard Ringbaum, admits that he has never read Hamlet – and thus wins the game (but loses his job). Lodge himself owns up to War and Peace.” From here.

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