Before going on a hike today (self employment rocks), I stopped by Jamba Juice for something to tie me over until lunch later in the afternoon.  The Jamba employee (or Jambalee for short) was a rather chipper young man who called himself Jimmy.  There was one person in front of me and as this customer gave Jimmy his money, Jimmy replied with “thanks boss”.  Immediately I was dreading Jimmy taking my order.

Sure enough, Jimmy called me boss when I gave him my money as well.  In fact, he called everyone boss and multiple times at that.  “Blackberry Bliss for Carla…  Here ya go boss”.  While annoying, it isn’t the lack of creativity that Jimmy had when addressing people that bothered me.  It’s the use of the word alone that I have a problem with and here’s why.

First off it’s simply an incorrect usage of a word for the given context.  Some may claim that its usage in this case is considered slang but I’m not buying it.  Besides, boss is already slang for excellent or cool.  Nope, when used as a title for another individual boss only has one meaning and it’s to denote that the person is your superior.  Not only am I not in charge of Jimmy, I don’t want to be in charge of Jimmy.

Second, essentially when someone calls me boss they are insulting themselves.  Why would someone voluntarily do this?  I can’t imagine that a person feels empowered after using the phrase.  If every random person that you serve is your boss, how much control can you have over your life?  Are they trying to boost my ego by making me feel like I’m important?  While I suppose some would appreciate that, I just can’t see the masses of service workers so willing to help out the egos of their customers.  I worked in a service job when I was in high school and it takes enough energy just to maintain your own ego while wearing one of those uniforms that there isn’t anything left to give.  Something isn’t adding up here.

I love sarcasm, so it shouldn’t be surprising that I feel like this usage of boss is actually a sarcastic remark.  I’m not convinced that everyone that’s using it intends for it to be sarcastic because lets face it, pop culture tends to be a bit of an echo chamber (in fact, I wonder if an echo chamber is a requirement for pop culture, but that’s a different topic…).  If I’m right about this, then calling someone boss is actually a backhanded complement.  Thanks Jimmy.

The difficult thing with backhanded complements is that they are often hard to reply to.  Treating it like it was a genuine complement only feeds into the desires of the person who gave it.  Replying with a backhanded complement of your own is a natural and somewhat satisfying reaction but that puts you on their level.  So what’s a good response to being called boss?

A part of me wants to treat their usage very literally by replying to the statement “thanks boss” with “you’re welcome subordinate”.  This is what I’ll call the Dwight Schrute response.  Somehow I don’t think people would enjoy hearing that all too often and they may think twice about using the phrase.

To stay on The Office theme, Angela Martin would take the direct approach and reply with something along the lines of “I’m the boss of my cats, you’re not good enough to be one of my cats, so stop calling me boss”.  While I’d love to see the look on someone’s face after that line was delivered to them, it’s not my style and I couldn’t hold a straight face.

Toby Flenderson would either take the polite route and ask that he not be called boss or perhaps the passive aggressive approach by filling out an anonymous comment card for the establishment.  While the polite route is probably the most adult way of dealing with it, Toby is pretty much ignored as a character and would likely get the same treatment in this case as well.

Stanley Hudson would go for the “whatever” reaction by uttering a “Ahhhh huh” while filling out a crossword puzzle while Roy Anderson would probably just punch the guy.  So maybe looking to The Office characters isn’t the greatest model for a response, but it sure is a fun one.

I don’t want to take all of the fun, so what would the other characters respond with?


The Language of Weather

August 8, 2008

I firmly believe that one of the weirdest things you could possibly watch on TV is the news, especially the weather reports. Have you ever noticed that no matter what the forecast is, the meteorologist always seems oddly excited? Even when telling the viewers that the next seven days will not bring the rain that they need or will be dangerously hot, they still deliver it with a smile and optimistic viewpoint. They might even try to cheer us up by expressing hope for things getting better next week. But the worst offense is using language to dress things up by making the situation sound better than it really is.

This is where I think something should change. Language is such an important thing to be conscious about, especially when used to communicate our environmental state. I believe the most frequent misuse of language in weather reports is referring to things as records. We constantly hear things like “we set a new record high of 108 degrees today” and it needs to stop.

The word record almost makes you feel like we accomplished something. Growing up I honestly was excited when we set a new weather record, made me feel like I had lived through an important event in history. I think most of us are quite aware today that setting these records isn’t anything to be proud about. However, the word record has such a positive connotation that it doesn’t accurately convey the situation.

So how do we communicate that these increasingly severe weather events aren’t what we’re looking for? A good first step is changing the language we use to describe them. What if instead of saying that today set a new record high, we said that today we lost our previous high. Using the word lost almost makes you depressed, it might even provoke a competitive response.

Ultimately I think it is hard to get our nation to truly take action and change our behavior because climate change is a rather abstract and difficult thing to comprehend. But the weather is all about our climate and it’s something that people are actually drawn to and can feel. So in many ways weather reports are the perfect setting to remind people of the impact that we have.

Imagine the changes that could take place if we stopped saying, “I’m sick of this weather” and started saying “I’m sick of how we’re screwing up the weather”. The latter of those two is an empowering statement because it points the finger at someone, us. It also sends the message that we have the power and desire to change what frustrates us.

Thankfully we all have good intentions and I firmly believe that with the right motivation those good intentions turn into good actions. So along with changing the language that we use to describe the weather, it would be great if we got tips on how to do our part to help our environment whenever we lose a previous high. Tips like how much your fuel economy drops as your speed increases.

After all, informing people of the road that we are on is important, but that only creates good intentions. Educating people on how they can help might turn those intentions into actions.