Hey Boss… Time for a Name Change


…At Long Last, a Meaningful Alternative

By Stephanie Nora White

Never before have so many new words entered the English lexicon at such rapid speed.

Inspired largely by the never-ending proliferation of technology in our lives and a rash of national political and social movements, we now have “political words of the year,” “digital words of the year,” and even “WTF words of the year.” New words in 2018 included “mansplainer,” with a likely 2019 addition being “complexifier” (courtesy of Amazon founder Jeff Bezos’, ahem, complex love life and business holdings).

According to the Global Language Monitor, a new English-language word is created every 98 minutes, or about 5,366 a year. Linguistic-loving organizations such as Merriam-Webster and the American Dialect Society have made a publicity-generating cottage industry out of publicizing, ranking and legitimizing the continuous stream of new words.

Perhaps even more intriguing are old words that have gotten new meanings. Think “cloud,” “handle” “troll,” “dumpster fire,” “rogue” and “lodestar.”

But what’s the one word many of us detest at worst and tolerate at best, which never seems to go away? “Boss.” It’s a word that just won’t die, despite the widespread aversion to it, and its particularly repugnant pedagogy.

Boss is an English bastardization of the Dutch word “baas,” which roughly means “master.” It emerged as a less-offensive alternative in the time of slavery, according to 1872’s Americanisms: The English of the New World. In more contemporary times, boss “became a convenient moniker for the rising capitalistic equivalent of the corporate figurehead,” according to U.S. author, photographer and “guerrilla historian” Jonathan Haeber. Nonetheless, such odious phrases as “my boss is a slave driver” endured, and in too many circles over too many years, employees of all ranks disdained the word. It has a bluntness to it, a lack of humanity, and its boorish phonetic sound doesn’t inspire worker bees to “lean in.” Complexifying the situation is the often-byzantine structure of today’s matrixed workplaces.

So, we propose a placement for “boss”: LINC™, which stands for “leader in charge.” Whether someone is an executive vice president reporting to the CEO, or a coordinator reporting to a specialist, LINC covers it. The letter “L” is more lilting and friendly than its brutish-sounding predecessor. Besides, “leader in charge” actually means something, and is free of the baggage of one of the country’s most reprehensible chapters. LINC also should work equally well in left-brain-driven computer science and engineering companies that have never encountered an acronym they didn’t like, and in right-brain-dominant creative design labs and think tanks.

So, who’s with us? Can we star six “boss” and wordsmith it with “LINC”?

Stephanie Nora White is managing partner of WPNT Ltd. The U.S.-based firm has provided communications training and strategy to organizations worldwide from Fortune 300 companies to Silicon Valley start-ups for more than 20 years. Follow her on Twitter at @WPNTLtd.