Yello. How's it going? Pretty well here, thanks. Today we are going to discuss the expression "you guys." What do you think of this popular turn of phrase? I am, in point of fact, a "guy," so I'm cool with it under most circumstances.
I suppose I'm actually directing this question to my female readers. How do you feel about being referred to as a "guy" by, say, a waiter or a waitress at a restaurant? The OED defines the noun guy in definition 1d as "A man, fellow."
Etymologically, guy is an intriguing word. As it happened, in 19th century American English, guy used to denote a "grotesquely or poorly dressed person." Earlier yet, guy was derived from a fellow named Guy Fawkes, (from Etymonline) "leader of the Gunpowder Plot to blow up British king and Parliament (Nov. 5, 1605), paraded through the streets by children on the anniversary of the conspiracy. The male proper name is from French, related to Italian Guido, literally "leader," of Germanic origin."
Fascinating. The reason why I am sensitive to this subject is because I have worked as a corporate trainer and I therefore have conditioned myself to be highly attuned to this sort of communication issue. Someone a little "rougher around the edges" than I am might make the argument that I toe the politically correct party line too closely; I happen to disagree.
My personal philosophy centers on trying to live life with maximum respect for all persons (read: trying, and falteringly so, at that). When I am in mixed company, I address these men and women as "ladies and gentlemen," "people," "folks," "friends," "everyone," and so on. When I am with a group of men, then "guys" is perfectly appropriate. I use this noun all the time when I approach a gang of male friends. "Hey guys, what's goin' on?"
Informal speech is a lovely thing. And I have many female friends who refer to each other as "guys," sho' nuff! Please don't get the idea that my English proscriptivism is an all-or-nothing proposition. (Not that my opinion on the matter means one iota to you, naturally! )
Sheesh—on a tangentially related note, I'll never forget this introductory PC hardware course I taught for Syracuse University back in 1999. I had a racially and ethnically diverse group of students in this particular class; really terrific, dynamic people. Anyway, one fine day I was explaining to these men and women the mechanics behind IDE hard drives in personal computers. Before you know it, the words "master" and "slave" popped out of my mouth like fluffy pieces of gourmet popcorn! Keep in mind, there were several African-American students in my class.
This was an uncomfortable situation for me, to be sure. Number one, I was indeed using perfectly appropriate terminology, given my subject matter. Number two, I intended no offense, and I was embarrassed by my own embarrassment (incidentally, I never broke my stride in my teaching). Number three, I handled the situation "in the heat of the moment" by substituting terminology on the fly: I immediately used the terms "primary" and "secondary" rather than "master" and "slave" to refer to the two IDE channels on the IDE bus in personal computers. This way I still used the correct nomenclature, and simultaneously sidestepped any real or imagined awkwardness.
Was the previous anecdote a big deal for any of my students? I'll be you dollars to doughnuts it was not. I mean, when I teach I have almost constant eye contact with all of my students, so I have a pretty good idea how they are doing at any given moment. Moreover, when I made the "master and slave" remarks I was actually, by coincidence, looking directly at one of my black students. Furthermore, I distinctly recall this student's eyes not making so much as the smallest twitch when I used those words. Therefore, I concluded during my post-class reflection time that, if anything, my uncomfortability with the situation was my uncomfortability to deal with. Besides, during our after-class banter, not a single student mentioned the master-slave stuff anyway, outside of any subject matter-related questions.
Now then—back to the "you guys" subject. Once again, because I am a man, I am never offended being referred to as a guy. However, when my wife and I are out socially and the two of us are referred to as "guys," I tend to bristle slightly. Matters worsen when a waitperson forms an awkward plural possessive: "Would you guys like to keep your guys' spoons?" Blah.
Let me try on some New Yawk: What do youse
guys folks think?