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Sunday Special » Perspective

Posted at: Apr 15, 2018, 1:23 AM; last updated: Apr 15, 2018, 1:55 AM (IST)TAKE MY WORD

Bossing around and lampooning bosses

Harvinder Khetal
Bossing around and lampooning bosses
Illustration: Vishu Verma

Harvinder Khetal

Bosses are everybody’s favourite punching bags. So, it is no wonder that the story of the ‘best boss ever’ went viral on the social media. It goes like this:

Jenn sent a message to her employer CainMolir one morning saying that she would be late. Her reason: She couldn’t resist taking pictures of her dog which looked really cute in his sleep that morning. She also sent him a picture as proof. 

Despite this trivial reason, he not only agreed that the dog was worth being late for, but also bought her and the ‘little guy’ tickets to a baseball game. Why? Because it was the first time in almost six years that she was late.

He wrote, “Just trying to be a good boss. This lady has been with the company for about eight years. In my time, she has never been late.”

“She’s also a very sweet older lady that the guys in the office call ‘Mom’ ... How could I be upset over that cute puRs p?! Be nice to each other today.”

CainMolir shared the story with his other employee at work. 

Don’t we all want such bosses?

Even a fairly okay guy who was your normal, cordial co-worker till the other day, seems to grow horns and fangs the moment he sits on that chair. I have, even as I climbed up the ladder, always wondered at this sudden transformation and concluded that, perhaps, there is something in that chair that gives birth to such attributes. 

Of course, the nature of a boss’ work bestows on him a certain authority over the subordinates. It is the varying degrees to which this authority is exercised that lead to exasperating situations and exasperations — on both sides. While those at the lower end generally feel inadequately compensated, the general flow of thought from up to down is that it is easier to do the work yourself than to get it done. But, there is only that much a person can do. The rest has to be delegated. It is this — how justly you allocate work and how humanely you deal with your colleagues — that distinguishes you from being a good boss and a bad one. The art lies in being a firm and authoritative boss, yet refraining from bossing around.

Those who boss around are probably the most despised and lampooned (to lampoon is to publicly criticise someone or something by using ridicule, irony, or sarcasm) lot. Full of themselves, they give ample fodder for ridicule. Lampooning the head helps sooth the raw nerves touched by him/her, often when he/she is lording it over by being overbearingly dictatorial, dominating, domineering, subjugating, oppressive or tyrannical. No doubt, that’s done mostly behind the back. For, who wants to be caught on the wrong foot?

To boss around is to tell someone what to do, give orders, specially in a forceful and unpleasant way. This phrase is often used to emphasise someone's behaviour as controlling or unwarranted. The use of boss in the sense of "to dominate" dates from the mid-1800s, and around was added a few decades later.

And, it is not only bosses who boss around. You look around and people calling the shots are found aplenty in almost every sphere: bullies in school, elder siblings at home, strong and mighty peers, friends, relatives. Most of us have had to endure such people.

Look at this one:

The sales chief, the HR chief, and the boss are on their way to lunch around the corner. They detour through an alley and stumble on a beat-up but valuable looking brass container. 

The sales chief picks it up and starts cleaning it with his handkerchief. Suddenly, a genie emerges out of a curtain of purple smoke. 

The genie is grateful to be set free, and offers them each a wish.

The HR chief is wide-eyed and ecstatic. She says, “I want to be living on a beautiful beach in Jamaica with a sailboat and enough money to make me happy for the rest of my life.” 

Poof! She disappears.

The sales chief says, “Wow! I want to be happily married to a wealthy supermodel with penthouses in New York, Paris, and Hong Kong.” 

Presto, he vanishes.

“And how about you?" asks the genie, looking at the boss.

The boss scowls and says, "I want both those idiots back in the office by 2 pm."

MORAL: Always let your boss speak first.

But, at times, you can count on your boss’s last word to work in your favour. As in:

An employee goes to see his supervisor in the front office.

“Boss,” he says, “we’re doing some heavy house-cleaning at home tomorrow, and my wife needs me to help with the attic and the garage, moving and hauling stuff.”

“We’re short-handed,” the boss replies. “I can’t give you the day off.”

“Thanks, boss,” says the employee “I knew I could count on you!”

It’s no surprise that most workers and employees have definitely had moments when they wished to be one’s own boss, ie to have full control of a business or enterprise and have no boss except for oneself.

Interestingly, to show (someone) who's boss is to demonstrate or prove to someone how skilled, strong, brave, courageous, etc., one is. And thus, make it clear that it is yourself who is in charge.

The Online Etymology Dictionary traces the word boss, meaning “overseer, one who employs or oversees workers”, to the 1640s, American English. It comes from Dutch baas “a master”, Middle Dutch baes, of obscure origin. If the original sense was “uncle”, perhaps it is related to Old High German basa “aunt”, but some sources discount this theory.  The Dutch form baas is attested in English from 1620s as the standard title of a Dutch ship's captain. Its use was a uniquely American way of avoiding the word “master”, which had quickly become associated with slavery by the mid-19th century.

By the way, who is a straw boss? A straw boss is a subordinate boss, a worker who supervises other workers as well as performs regular duties, somebody who is second in command. The term is said to have originated from the practice of the boss attending to the grain going into the thresher and the second man watching after the straw coming out. So, who’s the straw boss in your office?



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