Some etymologies are milquetoast while others are just plain weird.
Boss entered English in the 1640s in America. Though its Dutch source word baas, meant master, it’s believed that boss may have come into use in an attempt to make a distinction between master of a slave & master of a hired worker. The Dutch term appears to have come from the Old High German terms, baes, uncle, & basa, aunt. The slang term of the 1950s & ‘60s, meaning excellent, was actually the rebirth of a slang use of boss in the 1880s.
Etymologists argue over the origins of the term kibosh. Dickens (at the tender age of 24) introduced the term to English readers in 1836 as kye-bosk. Though most etymologists agree that it sounds as though it should have Yiddish roots, the most likely origin appears to be the Gaelic term, cie bash, pronounced ky-bosh. This term refers to the black skullcap worn by judges &/or executioners when pronouncing or performing the death penalty, thus the term, to put the kibosh on.
Unlike boss & kibosh, smart alec (or aleck) has a wonderfully clear origin. Alec Hoag was a con man, misogynist, &/or pimp who – when his wife, Melinda, was “distracting” a client -- would sneak through a specially designed secret panel in the room to pilfer her client’s wallet, watch, & other valuables. Apparently he used some of these valuables to buy off local law enforcement for some time, making a good deal of money & earning the nickname Smart Alec. I find a certain poetic justice in the fact that smart alecs tend to perceive themselves as smart, while the rest of us find them downright offensive. Sadly, Melinda Hoag has disappeared in the annals of history.
Good followers, please leave a comment with your thoughts regarding smart alecs, bosses & kibosh.
My thanks go out to this week’s sources, Etymoniline.com, Cracked.com & the OED.
I write for teens, narrate audio books, bake bread, play music, and ponder the wonder of words in a foggy little town on California's central coast.
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