It sounds like Spanish, doesn’t it? But in fact, it comes from the Japanese word “hancho,” which has its origins in Middle Chinese. “Han” translates as “squad,” and “cho” means “chief,” which is a common suffix in Japanese for words that denote leadership— “kocho,” for example, means “head master or school principal.” The term was brought back to the United States and the UK in the 1940s and 1950s by soldiers serving in Japan and Korea. English speakers use it as slang for “boss,” often preceded by the word “head,” which, though extraneous, does make for a pleasingly alliterative whole.


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