Executive Education

Hey Boss…Time for a Name Change

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’ 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. And then there’s the old words that have gotten new meanings. Think “cloud,” “handle” “troll,” “dumpster fire,” “rogue” and “lodestar.”

But in 25 years of coaching everyone from C-suite executives to assistant associates, I’ve learned that there’s one word that’s universally detested at worst, tolerated at best—but never seems to be replaced. “Boss.” It’s a word that just won’t die, despite widespread aversion to it, and its little-known, 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 self-declared “guerrilla historian” Jonathan Haeber. Nonetheless, such phrases as “my boss is a slave driver” endured. In too many circles, over too many years, employees of all ranks disdained the word. It has a blunt, boorish sound that doesn’t inspire worker bees to “lean in.” Complexifying the situation is the often-byzantine structure of today’s matrixed workplaces.

So, I propose a replacement for “boss”: LINC™, which stands for “leader in charge.” Whether someone is an executive vice president reporting to the CEO, or a junior coordinator reporting to a senior specialist on a one-time project, LINC covers it. It’s more lilting and approachable than its inelegant-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 heard an acronym they didn’t like, and in right-brain-dominant, creative design labs and think tanks.

Don’t think it quite hits the mark? I’m open to suggestions. But on the day we’re supposed to honor the top honcho in the office, I’m sure there’s a groundswell for star-sixing “boss.

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Stephanie Nora White
Stephanie Nora White is a contributing columnist for CEOWORLD Magazine and 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 Stephanie on Twitter at @WPNTLtd or connect with her on LinkedIn.