Brief notice: boss 4/12/13

For some time now, I’ve noticed a pattern of address term usage in local restaurants and cafes (three of them): I am addressed by servers and other employees there as boss. The speakers are all Hispanic men, younger than me (I’ve never gotten boss from anyone else; I don’t have employees of my own); and of course it’s crucial that I’m male; and it might be relevant that I’m a regular customer in all three places; and it might be relevant that the atmosphere of all three places is informal. (Some of these men sometimes address me as Arnold, but other times as boss.)

I assume that this is a resolution of a puzzle in social relations: sir would be the standard address term in service contexts, but seems far too formal and distancing given the social situation in these three places; and Arnold might seem too intimate on some occasions; so what to use instead?

What I don’t know is where boss (said with a friendly, even jocular tone) comes from. And why just Hispanic men? (Non-Hispanic and female servers seem always to opt for first names in such places; if they don’t know them already, they find them out and then memorize them.)

(Address terms are a long-standing interest of mine. Discussion of pal and sport here, boy here, and medical address terms here.)

6 Responses to “Brief notice: boss 4/12/13”

  1. Bob Richmond Says:

    I recall reading that “boss” (in the sense of a superior) is a fairly recent Low German loan-word, from Afrikaans. The word is fairly common in Middle High German, where it means “high” in various senses and is usually spelled basz.

  2. frenzie Says:

    @Bob The OED says boss was borrowed from Dutch baas in America as early as the 1630s.

    • arnold zwicky Says:

      Ok, but the uses in the OED are for boss ‘master, manager’ — someone who has a right to give orders.

      • frenzie Says:

        Fair enough, I was carrying too many Dutch past and present meanings of the word along and originally only one restricted meaning was borrowed.

        According to the WNT, the “original” (Middle Dutch) meaning of baas was the head of the family, the boss of the house if you will, and by extension any man of a certain age. Strangely, later it became a form of address toward men of lower social standing, but I believe that has disappeared. In any case, the meaning of any man of a certain age already goes back to the time when American English borrowed the word from Dutch.

        (Of course there are many more meanings to the word, many of which seem to be shared with English, if only in slang.)

  3. Gary Says:

    Would they say patron (sorry-too lazy to put the accent on the O) if they were speaking to you in Spanish, or call you Don Arnold?

  4. boss | Arnold Zwicky's Blog Says:

    […] of a brief note I posted here a couple of days ago, on boss as an address term, brings up two points; the need to […]

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