I also got a lot of reader responses to my post on “You’re not the boss of me!” Most of them wrote to tell me that if I had not been so quick to filter the They Might Be Giants song “Boss of Me” out of my Google search, I would have learned that it is the theme song for Malcolm in the Middle, and has been for all five or six seasons of the show. That, they pointed out, probably had a lot to do with the phrase’s increasing popularity.
A good number of respondents also mentioned the movie Boogie Nights, in which porn star Dirk Diggler tells off his producer, saying, “You’re not the boss of me, Jack! You’re not the king of Dirk! I’m the boss of me! I’m the king of me. I’m Dirk Diggler!” (Thanks to Mike Miller and D.G. Judy for the exact quotation.) I actually did see Boogie Nights, and I’m surprised I didn’t notice that line, especially since it seems to have made an impression on so many others. Maybe it even inspired TMBG; Boogie Nights came out in 1997, and “Boss of Me” in 2000, so it’s possible.
Though these two pop culture appearances may have helped popularize boss of me, the strange syntax predates them. A few readers noted that Monica Lewinsky had been widely quoted as saying it. VC reader Michael Gebert notes that Bob and Ray often used the phrase for a couple of recurring characters in their racio show from the 50s to the 70s. And several readers told me about hearing it in their childhood, the earliest being the 1960s.
As for how the phrasing actually came about, there were a couple of hypotheses that a number of readers proposed. Some said they [...]