The Problem With ‘Hey Guys’.
A broad coalition of English speakers—teachers, retail workers, ice-cream scoopers, and plenty of others—is grasping for a more inclusive greeting.
The Atlantic | Joe Pinsker
Joe Pinsker is a staff writer at The Atlantic, where he covers families and education.
When you look at the author, and see his cred, you know you're going to be in some weird regressive headspace for 10 minutes. I will refer to Joe Pinsker as Joe Twinker, or simply Twink. And we're going to comment paragraph by paragraph because I don't have time right now to do a cohesive entry. In short, the article was a wordy piece about the people Twink interviewed about how much they don't like the word Guys. You read that right. Italicized text is the article.
“Okay, guys,” a female coworker of mine recently began, as she addressed me and a female colleague. Then she stopped herself, said she was making an effort to use more gender-neutral language, and carried on talking.
She said she was making a effort not to offend you guys since you're the type that would tattle to HR in a heartbeat, and the last she needs is a meeting with HR because of a bunch of wannabe-guys got their feewings hurt. I wouldn't talk to people who find the word Guys offensive. And the only time you should self-censor is if you swear a lot and there's old people in the room.
It was a small self-correction, and a glimpse at the conflicted feelings stirred up by one of the most common greetings in the English language. Guys is an easygoing way to address a group of people, but to many, it’s a symbol of exclusion—a word with an originally male meaning that is frequently used to refer to people who don’t consider themselves "guys."
Oh, those conflicted feelings. Such agony. These guys should lighten up and be happy they're in a group at all. It's not a symbol of exclusion, Twink. Only a low-IQer would believe that.
My coworker is one of many who have started editing themselves in response to this exclusion. In the course of reporting this story, I heard from teachers who wanted a better way to get students’ attention, an ice-cream scooper who wanted a better way to greet customers, and a debate coach who specifically encourages his students to use y’all. These are representatives of a broad coalition of people who have contemplated, and often gone through with, excising guys from their vocabularies.
First off, they weren't editing themselves, Twink, they were censoring themselves and there wasn't any exclusion at all especially when you said "Guys is an easygoing way to address a group of people". Also, if you're in the middle of a story, you're not reporting it. You're still researching it. Then you do a report it when it's finished. Guys would never make this simple mistake.
There are, of course, plenty of people—including many women—who have no problem being addressed as “guys,” think the word has evolved to be entirely gender-neutral, and don't see a reason to change their usage. But others aren’t so sure. “I think there's a really serious and welcome reconception of gender lines and relationships between sex and gender going on,” says John McWhorter, who teaches linguistics at Columbia University and has written several books about language. He says “something has crested in particular over about the past 10 years”—something that has people examining their everyday communications.
You think it's really that serious, John? I think there's a weird over-emphasis on sex and gender (which are the same things) lately. You know what type of people are fixated on sex all the time? Depraved perverts. I'll agree this current wave of political correctness has been pushed way too hard in the last 10 years. Also, there’s no such word as reconception.
In my reporting I heard from several people who said that the word is particularly troubling for trans and gender-nonconforming people. “As a transgender woman, I consciously began trying to stop using guys some years ago,” says Brad Ward, a college counselor at a high school in Atherton, California. She added, “When I’m included with a group that is called guys, there’s some pain, since it takes me back to my male days in a way that I’d rather not go.”
Twink, you should have been honest in that first sentence and said: "During my research, I heard from several people, who are not trans, say that the word is particularly troubling for trans and gender-nonconforming people." If you feel pain from hearing a word, then you're a useless person. Sticks and stones. Also, real Trans people don't go by "transgender woman", they go by "woman" or one of the two genders they transitioned to. By the way, Brad, you should probably change your name to something a little more feminine. Why do I get the feeling that you probably look like Mick Fleetwood on the cover of the English Rose LP? I'm going to go out on a limb and say that if you go through gender-reassignment surgery, the word Guys isn't going to bother you.
I also heard that guys could grate on women working at male-heavy companies. In tech in particular, some told me they saw the word as yet another symptom of a female-minimizing industry. “There are a lot of guys in tech and ‘guys’ is used all the time in my work and social environments by both men and women, but since it doesn't resonate with me anymore, I do feel like I'm not part of the group,” says Amy Chong, a 29-year-old user-experience researcher in San Francisco.
Male heavy? Isn't that Fat Shaming? And Amy, you're 29. You've should have outgrown the need to be in a group about 10 years ago. It's probably that cheerful attitude of yours is why you're not part of the group.
In some workplaces, people have used technology to gently push back against the gender-neutral guys so that they themselves don’t have to speak up. A group of government employees wrote a custom response for the messaging app Slack that would have a bot ask questions like “Did you mean friends?” or “Did you mean you all?” whenever a user wrote “Hey guys”; a Spotify employee embraced the idea, and the professional network Ladies Get Paid has a similar feature in its Slack group of some 30,000 members.
That whole paragraph was bizarre. So they want to be language police but they don't want to speak up? How spineless. These people aren't even worthy to be called Guys. Government employees is pretty vague. Is this State level? Municipal? They just sit around and text all day? Sweet gig. Nobody would use the word Guys in a professional e-mail or setting anyways. A Spotify employee liked the idea too. I know; who cares? Ladies Get Paid sounds like a bunch of whores.
As these examples indicate, there’s additional scrutiny these days on communications that happen within or emanate from organizations. This is likely why, after I put out calls for opinions on guys, I heard from many people who worked in education or customer-facing jobs. I heard from one teacher who switched to using folks after thinking about the inclusive-learning environment he’d like to create, and another who opted for peeps or scholars. Similarly, an employee at an outdoor-goods store told me that her company’s human-resources department had encouraged the use of more-inclusive terms when addressing customers. “Folks and y’all were determined to be more acceptably neutral and you guys was asked to be toned down,” she said.
Opinions from self-important teachers are always fascinating. And what's the name of that outdoor goods store? Sounds like the guys in HR are a bunch of assholes. If the employee is that worried that they'll lose their job over a Yelp review, then customer service isn't for them. Here's a tip, and get ready Millennials, this'll blow your mind: when addressing a group of people and you want to include everyone, say "How is everyone today?"
Many people are trying to phase guys out of their vocabulary in social settings as well as at work. Coby Joseph, a 26-year-old urban planner currently living in the San Francisco Bay Area, told me that he no longer uses the term after considering “how much of our language centers men”; he found guys “lazy and inconsiderate” and stopped using it four or five years ago, except in cases when he’s communicating with people whom he knows identify as male.
Coby, you're going to have a long life of being disliked. Sorry, guy. And language doesn't centre on men. That's lazy and inconsiderate to think it does. Let's say language centers men (whatever that means), it's probably because guys invented language, and people like Cody don't know how to use it. Man, guys are smart.
This crowd of guys-objectors is not alone historically. People have been resisting the term for decades, and perhaps the most passionate opponent of the word is Sherryl Kleinman, a former professor of sociology at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. In a 2002 essay in the journal Qualitative Sociology, she wrote about the problem with male-default terms such as “chairman,” “congressman,” and “mankind.” Kleinman saw them together as “another indicator—and, more importantly, a reinforcer—of a system in which ‘man’ in the abstract and men in the flesh are privileged over women.”
Yes, resist. It's the word of the day. Anyways, another bad paragraph where, other than "guys-objectors", there no mention of the word Guys. So it's just male bashing by the probably-single Ms Kleinman. I'm surprised she didn't change her last name to Kleinperson. And men aren't privileged over women. Women hold all of the cards for mate selection which is a pretty big deal, if you're into life and stuff.
She reserved a special disapproval for “you guys,” which she considered the “most insidious” of these phrases, and with the help of former students made a small card that anyone could print out and, for instance, leave behind at a restaurant to communicate their dislike of the term to an employee who had used it. “When you’re talking to a group of customers, gender doesn’t really matter, so why not replace ‘you guys’ with ‘you all,’ ‘folks,’ or ‘y’all,” it reads in part.
And the restaurant staff would say, "What a bunch of condescending, asshole customers. They didn't tip either." I would never replace Guys with Ya'll. Ya'll is a cringe-y dumbed-down way of saying You All. And Sherryl, stop being so controlling. I guarantee you're not the moral beacon in the room. Guys like Sherryl are so annoying.
Indeed, why not? The problem, for those who want to ditch guys, is that their language doesn’t present them with many versatile replacements; English lacks a standard gender-neutral second-person plural pronoun, like the Spanish ustedes or the German ihr. The alternatives to guys tend to have downsides of their own. Folks—inclusive and warm, but a little affected and forced. Friends—fine in social contexts, strange at work. People—too often pushy and impersonal. Team—its sense of camaraderie wears out with constant use. One might cobble together a mix of pronouns to deploy in different scenarios, but no one term can do it all.
I just said use the word everyone to include everyone. Why is that so hard? "One might cobble together a mix of pronouns" was funny. There's only a handful of pronouns anyways. Ze, Zir, Zem, etc were just made up by some attention seeking weirdos so they don't count or matter.
(I also came across some more-obscure alternatives. Some write guise as attempt to de-gender the word; I heard about a socialist political group that preferred comrades; one teacher, to draw attention to the problem with guys, said she sometimes jokingly addresses her class as ladies or gals.)
Ha! That's hilarious...if you're an idiot. Then again, it did come from a teacher so par for the course. And changing the spelling of a word to one that already exists with a different meaning is as useless as the people that are changing the spelling. Maybe those guys like hearing, "What are you talking about?"
Which brings us all to y’all, which seems to be the alternative with the most passionate backers. It has many of the necessary features to be the heir to guys—inviting, inclusive, monosyllabic. But what holds it back is its informality, as well as its regional associations, which many don’t know how to handle.
"most passionate backers". Twink, could you start making sense? You'll never be a real Guy at this rate.
I heard from people born and living outside the South who didn’t feel they could use the term naturally. “They’ll say, ‘y’all’? Are you from Texas?,” one Californian told me; another, who now lives in the Midwest, says she feels “self-conscious saying it as a non-Southerner.” And I heard from a Turkish-born woman living in Los Angeles who “felt a bit choiceless” selecting between guys and y’all after coming to the U.S., because of the gender politics of the former and because she didn’t “have the background to use the latter.” (She lamented that English lacks a gender-neutral second-person plural pronoun, unlike Turkish, her native tongue.)
Aww, she lamented. Why didn't you tell her about the word "everyone", Twink? I'm beginning to think you're part of the problem. I bet if you took her to Skid Row, she would have said, "What's wrong with these guys and why do they stink?" I doubt she would have said, "Ya'll want some soap?"
McWhorter, the Columbia linguist, summed up the downside of y’all by saying, “You can’t use it at a board meeting.” Might it shed its informality if more people adopt it? "That's not going to change,” McWhorter said, “especially because it's associated with two things: the South and black people. And those two things are considered informal, and many people would have less polite things to say about both of those things."
A Columbia linguist. Is that different than a normal linguist? And how did you magically tie that to race? John just insinuated that all black people are informal. What a dick.
Which is one of the reasons the gender-neutral guys has had such staying power. But over its 400-year lifespan, guy’s meaning has already changed multiple times—getting less specific as time went on. At first, the word’s definition was quite narrow: Guy referred to an effigy of Guy Fawkes, the infamous Brit who tried and failed to blow up the Houses of Parliament in 1605. The word’s meaning radiated outward from there, encompassing larger and larger groups. It started to be used to signify any effigy, then any fearsome person and/or any man. And then, in the plural, it came to mean—in the U.S. sometime around 100 years ago—just about anyone.
That thing about Guy Fawkes actually came from the Washington Post, so consider the source ("It’s derived, etymologists believe, from the name Guy Fawkes"). Those guys believing it doesn't make it true. If we can just make anything up then it was actually because of Guy Lafleur, right-winger of the Montreal Canadiens. The term Guy was around a long time before Guy Fawkes was born.
Many, perhaps even most, American English speakers view this evolution as a process of shedding gendered connotations. This is the view that McWhorter counsels as a linguist: “People are going to continue referring to women as guys, and a lot of the people doing it are going to be women,” he says.
Yup, I still do it. Sometimes I'll say Fellas just to mix it up a bit.
McWhorter does recognize that even as the word’s meaning has shifted, it retains a certain male “flavor.” In fact, there are some examples in the past of words zigging and zagging in their gender associations. Anatoly Liberman, a linguist at the University of Minnesota, told me about how child started off as a gender-neutral word in Old English, remained so for several centuries, took on a male meaning in Northern England and Scotland, took on a female meaning in other English dialects, and then mostly converged on a neutral meaning again. So, language can change—and change back.
I'm going to go with the usage of Guys and Gals as why it still has a "certain male flavour". Gals are female leaving Guys to be male.
McWhorter, though, would not bet on the reformers in this guys debate. He thinks that the gender-neutral guys has irreversible momentum. The question then becomes, he says, “How do we feel about it? And we can express our feelings, but if you don’t want to say it, use folks or people, but everybody's not going to join you. Language changes whether you like it or not."
You know who's going to be teased if they actually come out and say they're not using the word Guys because it's not inclusive? All of them.
Even if guys is widely regarded as gender-neutral, there will still be a sizable contingent of conscientious objectors. They argue, not incorrectly, that dropping guys takes very little effort, and any awkwardness that comes with the odd folks or friends or y’all seems far preferable to making a listener feel ignored. (Personally, I’ve come to favor you all, which carries some of the perks of y’all without being tied to any particular region.)
Personally, Twink, I think you're kind of dumb. And you don't have to keep virtue signaling. Also, you and 6 other people are not a sizable contingent of conscientious objectors.
Plenty will disagree with that, and this is the way language evolves—not in an orderly line, but as a messy argument. And that is a blessing—words deserve regular interrogation. One such interrogator is a man working at a pharmaceutical company in New Jersey who had thought deeply about the use of guys in his office. “I honestly think my biggest problem with ‘you guys,’” he wrote to me in an email, “is the plural possessive form that it has spawned.” His example: “Sorry I missed your guys's meeting.” Any reasonable user of language should be able to agree that that phrase is straight-up ugly.
Sorry I missed your guys's meeting is actually poor grammar. It should be " guys' " Just kidding, you shouldn't hire anyone that speaks like that in the first place.
And that was the article. No last paragraph to wrap up the points, or if there was a point at all. I think it was to guilt people in to not saying the word Guys but it wasn't really clear. All I got was examples from over-sensitive people from California that go fetal when the hear the word Guys. Those people wouldn't make good Guys. I do highly recommend Dave Barry's 90's classic Complete Guide To Guys. Get it before it's banned along with the Goonies.