Why do I need to know bosser?
This French phrase is rarely taught in schools, but it’s frequently used, probably because just about everybody has to do it – including you.
What does it mean?
To bosser is ‘to work’. Originally (see below), to use the term bosser implied a strongly negative connotation, and could be translated as ‘to slog/slave away’, but nowadays, it’s often used to just say ‘to work’, period.
However it can depend on the context and the tone of the speaker.
For example, Elle bosse dans un café (‘She works in a café’) carries no negative connotation; it’s just a colloquial way of saying where somebody works.
On the other hand, Je bosse toute la journée et tu ne fais rien (‘I work/break my back all day and you do nothing’) implies that the work being done is particularly arduous.
The use of bosser is not limited to physical labor, and it’s common to hear students say it, particularly using the construction bosser un examen, meaning ‘to cram for a test’.
Another common construction is bosser sur quelque chose (‘work on something’), as in J’ai bossé sur ce dossier toute la nuit – ‘I worked on that paper all night’.
By extension, you can probably guess that un bosseur/une bosseuse is someone who works hard, as in, Ma fille est une bosseuse, elle va réussir dans la vie (‘My daughter is a hard worker, she’s going to succeed in life’).
While common, bosser is quite informal, so it’s not the type of word you’d use with your, you know, boss.
The use of the verb bosser to communicate the idea of ‘to work hard’ goes back to the late 19th century. Before that, bosser generally meant ‘to present a bosse’, or ‘bump/hump’, and the two meanings are probably linked – the idea being that excessive hard work would cause physical deformation, like that of a hunchback, or bossu.
The dictionary French alternative would be travailler, or trimer if you want emphasize the grueling nature of the work.
Another colloquial alternative is taffer, which comes from the noun taf (‘work’/’job’), derived from the acronym travaille à faire (‘work to do’).