Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Word of the day: boss-A

Listening last night to the beautiful 1964 recording Getz/Gilberto (Stan/João), I thought of a way to account for the compound adjective boss-A, one of the stranger bits of slang from my Brooklyn childhood.¹ Boss is a now-dated adjective of high praise: if, say, a bicycle or walkie-talkie was boss, it was cool, great.² If something was boss-A, it was really, really, really cool.

Last night it occurred to me: could the bossa nova craze of the early 1960s explain the boss of my childhood? Bossa nova = cool = boss? And could boss-A be a bizarre corruption of bossa?

Boss-A more likely had something to do with letter grades, but in the absence of evidence, I prefer to blame it on the bossa nova.

¹ Boss-A is my invented spelling. The a is long. Stress both syllables.

²The absence of these meanings from the Oxford English Dictionary surprises me. Merriam-Webster’s Collegiate traces the adjective —“excellent, first-rate” — to 1836.

comments: 3

adair said...

Has there ever been a lovlier music? Bossa nova means the new thing, the new wave, the new trend, and it has very much to do with Brazil's vision of itself in the late 50's and early 60's as a forward-leaning, progressive country ("50 years in 5!" was their slogan then.)What a great time for Brazilian architecture, poetry (the great Carlos Drummond de Andrade, whose words influenced Gilberto and Jobim) and of course music. It is the perfect marriage of samba and cool jazz. Have you heard Sinatra singing with Jobim? "And you guys thought I was Italian!" said Frank to the deeply moved musicians at the end of the recording session.

Michael Leddy said...

Yes, I love the Sinatra-Jobim recordings (the original LP and the recent re-release).

Here’s a recommendation back: the film Next Stop Wonderland (1998), set in Boston but with a great bossa nova soundtrack.

Michael Leddy said...

An anonymous commenter notes that there’s “an exuberant exclamation of agreement” that’s similar. It’s a six- or seven-letter present participle, -in’ or -ing, followed by “A.” I’ve more often heard this expression as a matter of disapproval or disagreement; perhaps that’s why it didn’t come to mind.