• honcho •
Pronunciation: hahn-cho • Hear it!
Part of Speech: Noun
Meaning: 1. (Slang) Person in charge, boss, manager, leader, usually implying someone assertive. 2. (Derogatory) Big wheel, big cheese, muckety-muck, someone of great importance.
Notes: This word is heard in the US in the redundant phase 'head honcho', redundant since honcho already means the head of some group. It may be used as a verb, as 'to honcho a Forbes 500 company'.
In Play: The most widespread use of this word is in the phrase head honcho: "Les Newcomb was the head honcho at Rex Motors for 15 of the most profitable years of the company's history." It is easier to find ways to use the verb metaphorically: "Manley Driver could honcho an 18-wheeler down Fifth Avenue in rush-hour traffic."
Word History: English hasn't borrowed many words from Japanese, but today's Good Word is Japanese hancho "squad leader", modified only minimally. This word is a compound consisting of han "corps, squad" + cho "head, chief". It was picked up by U.S. servicemen in Japan and Korea, 1947-1953. Han was borrowed from Middle Chinese pan "division, class", also the source of Mandarin bān "class, kind". Cho was also borrowed from Middle Chinese triaŋ "leader" and is also the source of Mandarin zhâng "head, chief, elder". (Let's all thank Jackie Strauss, a prolific contributor for many years, for today's exotic Good Word.)