Cassidese Glossary – Boss

For some time now, some of my on-line friends have advised me to provide a version of CassidySlangScam without the invective aimed at Cassidy and his supporters. In response to that advice, I am working on providing a glossary of the terms in Cassidy’s ludicrous book How The Irish Invented Slang with a short, simple and business-like explanation of why Cassidy’s version is wrong.

The facts in relation to the English word boss are quite clear. Boss was borrowed into the English language in America in the 1640s from Dutch baas, a master. (People who know anything about the history of South Africa under the Apartheid system will perhaps remember the Afrikaans term Baaskap, meaning domination, which was used by some of the Afrikaner ideologues who supported that evil system.) Some sources think that it became common in the more egalitarian society of the colonies as a way of avoiding the word master. It then spread to Europe and was borrowed into Irish as bas by the 20th century. Please note that bas is not the main or usual word for a boss, which is saoiste, or cipín (in Donegal) or geafar (a borrowing of English gaffer). There is no evidence of the word bas for a boss in the Irish language before the twentieth century. (It is not found in Dinneen’s dictionary.)

Cassidy misleads in his item on the word boss by pretending that the Irish term is of great antiquity and that it is the source of the English word boss rather than the other way round:

Boss as a slang term for best or good became popular in the 1960s. But boss (bas, best) was old when the King and the Duke drifted down the Mississippi River with Huck Finn and Jim in the 1840s …”

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