Monday, January 30, 2006

Male Guys

That the phrase "you guys" is genderless, being a plural "you" that Standard English has lacked since the demise of "thou," is not disputed. The word "guys" itself, perhaps by extension from that phrase, seems to be becoming genderless for many English-speakers, too. One forum thread at Antimoon (a site for ESL people) comments about the usage. American Heritage Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, and Wiktionary agree.

And in the wild:

Even though the majority of you guys [in the apartment] are male...

The above was Forrest, last night. Below is my ethnic studies teacher, today:

And Lucia Gonzales was a woman [in the workers' movement]. Most of these guys were men.

Language change is interesting. :)

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John Cowan said...

Why, even guys use it that way! :-)

Originally, of course, "guy" meant someone who was making a fool of himself (as still in England, I think), and then just someone, anyone. Of course "someone" was by default male ("fool of himself", see?), but I don't think the word was ever specifically male until fairly recent decades. So it's not too surprising that it's reverting to a partly gnderless term.

Arthaey said...

The OED says "guy" comes from the effigies of Guy Fawkes, and in the US came to mean just "man, fellow." Interestingly, the OED makes no mention of a genderless usage; usually the OED's pretty good about keeping up with such things. (Nothing in the "you" entry, either.)

How often do words revert to their original meanings? My impression — although now that I think about it, one that I have no data for — was that once a word picked up a new meaning, it tended to keep it. (If it survived the "fad" period, that is.)

If words reverted most of the time, there would be much less for people to argue about as evidence of the decline of the English language at the hands (mouths?) of "kid these days". ;)