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For some years now I've heard You're not the boss of me increasingly more often relative to the more "correct, natural" (to me, at least) You're not my boss. Thanks to the magic of NGrams, I've confirmed my suspicions that it's not just the company I keep... graph

At first I just thought the "boss of me" version was just a childish equivalent, but now I'm not so sure. If I extrapolate the graph (bearing in mind NGrams doesn't quite reach today yet anyway), it seems likely the new variant is already (or soon will be) the standard form. What's going on?

In case that's not considered a proper ELU question, I'll rephrase it as "What if anything do people perceive as different about the new version, which might be causing them to prefer it?".

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Ugh. I prefer either "I don't answer to you." or "Who are you to give me orders?". –  dmckee Jul 20 '11 at 0:42

3 Answers 3

up vote 3 down vote accepted

"You're not the boss of me" emphasizes "me," and is something a child would say (or we imagine would say) to his parents. It's also often said by an adult to give the statement that connotation, sometimes in an ironic way.

"You're not my boss" is a bit more on-the-nose and declarative, whereas "you're not the boss of me" is more absolute, confrontational, and draws more upon the cultural shared knowledge of that phrase.

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I can understand why people don't, but I do sometimes wish everyone at ELU had age/sex/location in their profile. Per OP, I too think boss of me sounds child-like. But how much is that because I'm British, or over 30? Maybe it's just a standard phrasing to younger Americans. I imagine "pop" lyrics mainly reflect popular usage rather than create it, but I can't even swear to that - particularly in this case. I'm thinking boss of me sounds more "petulant" than "confrontational", but I really can't unthread this one myself. –  FumbleFingers Jul 20 '11 at 14:50

The big spike at just after 2000 (i.e. 2001) most likely comes from the popularity of the TV show Malcolm in the Middle which has the title song Boss of me by They Might Be Giants, with the chorus:

You're not the boss of me now!

You're not the boss of me now!

You're not the boss of me now!

And you're not so big.

The TV show was very popular and has been broadcast all over the world.

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I know of Malcolm in the Middle, but never watched it or heard the theme song. From 2001 there's also the track He is the Boss of Me on Ecce Homo by The Hidden Cameras, which I must have listened to dozens if not hundreds of times by now. The phrasing originally struck me as odd. I've gotten used to it over time, but I still can't quite shake the sense of it being a slightly petulant childish way of putting things. –  FumbleFingers Jul 20 '11 at 13:33
I would say the They Might be Giants song is most definitely petulantly childish. –  Matt Эллен Jul 20 '11 at 14:29

What is the problem? Both are grammatically correct. You're not my boss! is more succinct, but succinctness is really not the point when you're trying to make a dramatic statement like You're not the boss of me!. I imagine that You're not the boss of me! has become more prevalent because it draws out an emphasis on the 1st person and sounds more dramatic, though I'm sure it really is more that people are becoming more familiar with the dramatic version and so it more easily rolls off the tongue than the succinct version.

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I never said I had a problem. But since you ask, I could be concerned about the grammaticality of boss of me. Switching to a different noun and removing the negation may clarify the issue. You're my hero is fine, but I really don't think You're the hero of me would be acceptable to anyone. Just because you've heard a usage many times doesn't automatically make it grammatically correct (though if nearly everyone uses a form, eventually it must become correct). –  FumbleFingers Jul 20 '11 at 1:40
Sorry if my "What is the problem?" appeared hostile; I was just trying to figure out what you see as wrong with boss of me. Grammatically, X's Y and Y of X are identical in this situation. You seem to be making the fallacy of there being a 1-1 correlation with what sounds right and what is grammatically correct. You're my hero and You're the hero of me are both grammatically correct, but the prevalent behavior is to not use the personal pronoun like that, so the prevalent behavior sounds right and the uncommon behavior sounds incorrect. –  rubergly Jul 20 '11 at 5:44
"X's Y" and "Y of X", while both can be correct, can have slightly different meanings. If you use "Gotham City" as X, it becomes more clear. "Hero of Gotham City" vs. "Gotham City's hero" have slightly different (but possibly overlapping) meanings. The former can mean a hero that came from or resides in GC, regardless of whether the citizens of GC appreciate it, or even reap any benefits. "Boss of Gotham City" and "Gotham City's Boss" also have slightly different connotations. The former seems colder, more objective. I think the same is true with "Boss of me" vs "My boss." –  Flimzy Jul 20 '11 at 6:40
@rubergly: oic. Or rather, I don't exactly. Other examples notwithstanding, there's still the issue of the xxx of me, which for many xxx's is at the very least 'odd'. Though I note that for xxx=making, for xample, it's the other way round. How come a non-grammatical issue makes so much difference to 'acceptability', and how do we identify which xxx's work which way round? –  FumbleFingers Jul 20 '11 at 12:56
@Flimzy: Interesting point about xxx of yyy sounding colder/more objective. I've upvoted that because it's the first "differentiation" offered, not because I recognise and agree the truth thereof (I simply don't know). But hopefully others will either disput the point or upvote as well, giving me an idea as to whether there's anything in the idea. –  FumbleFingers Jul 20 '11 at 13:37

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