Guys

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Erin McKean, "Hey guys! Yes, ladies, this means you", Boston Globe, 3/21/2010:

In the study of peevology, language subdivision, one of the more fertile areas of inquiry is the long list of things that people are annoyed to be called. Not the truly offensive terms — none of which can be printed here, and all of which have a level of discomfort far higher than "pet peeve'' — but the more general terms, whose offense is often magnified when they're used by strangers involved in a commercial transaction.

Some people hate to be called "honey,'' or "sugar.'' A few feel that any use of "hey'' as an attention-getter is rude (with the classic retort being "Hey is for horses''). Others believe that being called "ma'am'' ages them 10 years. But one of the more widespread vocative peeves, at least for women, is being addressed as "you guys.''

Whether it's the group e-mail that opens "Hi Guys!'' or the waiter who says "OK, guys, your table is ready,'' the use of "you guys'' for groups of mixed gender (and even for all-female groups) can send the needle on many peeve-ometers into the red.

Later in the article, Erin makes an important point:

Just to be clear, I'm not saying that anyone, male or female, doesn't have the right to be offended at being called "you guys.'' This is America; you're allowed to be offended by whatever you choose. You can be offended at not being addressed "Commander SnorkelFritz, Hero Third Class of The Loompian Hegemony,'' and I will fully support your indignation…and not just because I want to see your uniform, commander.

And she's not kidding about the uniform, by the way.



105 Comments

  1. Sili said,

    March 21, 2010 @ 11:43 am

    Others believe that being called "ma'am'' ages them 10 years.

    I have to admit to being slightly taken aback the first time I was "Sir"ed at the till in Sainsbury's. And even more so when it happened here in Denmark – I honestly thought the T/V distinction was neigh on dead for people younger than me (and even just my age – I'm a bit of a linguistic relic). Indeed, while I don't watch much telly anymore, I believe the 'kids' have trouble sticking to "De" (V) when addressing the royals. More power to them, really.

  2. Topherclay said,

    March 21, 2010 @ 12:25 pm

    Dude, nice post.

  3. Timothy Martin said,

    March 21, 2010 @ 12:35 pm

    Is that point McKean makes an important one? In an article that (superficially) discusses reasons to and not to object to a particular usage of "guys," saying that "you can be offended by whatever you want" effectively washes away all of those reasons as unimportant and irrelevant – like you can make whatever argument you want for "guys" based on the linguistic evidence, but in the end it's just "anything goes" because, hey, everybody has a right to get upset. No, I don't think so. If your complaints are silly, based on faulty logic, and imply that there is something wrong with my ability to use my native language when there is not, then we have a problem. You may have the right to get upset, but I also have the right to call you on it.

  4. Andy said,

    March 21, 2010 @ 1:12 pm

    Is anyone else under the impression that "You guys" has a high density of usage in the upper midwest? When I (use and) hear "you guys" I think of "Youper" dialects.

    Its also interesting how much more natural "you guys" sounds in a sentence than "you girls". It seems like "Where are you girls going?" puts an added emphasis/focus on the fact that its a particular set of girls that are going somewhere, and its difficult not to stress parts of the sentence that in a similar "you guys" construction, you wouldn't.

    In "Where are you guys going?", I don't get that additional reading.

    I'm not saying "you guys" should be deemed more socially acceptable than "you guys", just commenting on the level with which "you guys" has infiltrated everyday speech to have a distinction with "you girls"

  5. IrrationalPoint said,

    March 21, 2010 @ 1:25 pm

    I wish this issue wasn't always framed in terms of offense, especially in terms of "everyone has the right to be offended at something, so there's no need to take this issue seriously".

    It's not just that someone might find it offensive or annoying to be called "honey" — it's that very often those come from harmful (not just annoying) ideologies. Calling a woman (or disabled person, another, ahem, interesting situation of my experience) you do not know "honey" is not unacceptable because women have poor delicate sensibilities and they might not be able to cope with being offended.

    That view doesn't take into account the fact that in most speech communities, endearments to strangers are gendered: if a man calls a woman an endearment, and she answers back, then she's a bitch. If a woman calls a man an endearment, it would be normal for him to answer back, because what's a woman doing calling him a diminutive as if he's gay, or something?! Moreover, the diminutive part of this is crucial. The gendered practice of calling women by diminutives or endearments belongs to the same discourse that infantilizes women.

    …and ideologies that infantilize women have real practical consequences in the actual world, that are not quite as totally hilarious as someone not being called Commander SnorkelFritz.

    –IP

  6. Tea said,

    March 21, 2010 @ 1:39 pm

    That's why "y'all" is so useful: it doesn't exclude anyone.

  7. parse said,

    March 21, 2010 @ 1:54 pm

    That view doesn't take into account the fact that in most speech communities, endearments to strangers are gendered

    I'm familiar with them being gendered in a way different than the one described in your comment, IrrationalPoint. In my experience, a man who was called "honey" (or "sugar" or "darlin'") by a female stranger wouldn't likely perceive this as a reflection on his masculinity, though he might well feel that if the diminutive came from another man. Can you give a little more detail about the context in which men, hearing these forms of address from an unfamiliar woman, would tend of experience them negatively?

  8. Chris Kern said,

    March 21, 2010 @ 2:01 pm

    I am from the upper midwest, and in my speech, "you guys" is a second-person plural pronoun that can be used with any mix of genders. I can't promise that no women get offended by this, although I know girls who also use "you guys" even with a group of girls.

    The possessive, of course, is "your guys's [guyzez]". I always wondered about that double possessive.

  9. IrrationalPoint said,

    March 21, 2010 @ 2:14 pm

    Parse said:

    Can you give a little more detail about the context in which men, hearing these forms of address from an unfamiliar woman, would tend of experience them negatively?

    It's true that it's not always about masculinity, although in some communities it does seem to be, and in any case some endearments index gayness more than others. Certainly where it isn't about masculinity, the reaction from a man being called an endearment or diminutive might well be that it's overly familiar from a stranger, and therefore rude (but note that this is asymmetrical — it doesn't necessarily apply if the same man uses the endearment/diminutive to a woman).

    An example from my own experience: my friends quite often call me by a diminutive form of my name. Sometimes men I'm not that friendly with will call me by the diminutive too and if I think they are being overly-familiar, I might respond to them by calling *them* by the diminutive of their name. This is overwhelmingly successful in getting them to stop calling me by a diminutive form, because the reaction is overwhelmingly likely to be "Why are you calling me X?!" in a slightly annoyed tone of voice and I then smile sweetly (for which read, sarcastically) and explain that it is because they called me by a diminutive, and I assumed this was a symmetrical relation. Almost invariably, this results in the person calling me by my full name. Note that it is always clear that the man in question did not expect to be called a diminutive, but they did expect to call me a diminutive.

    There's a good passage about diminutives in Deborah Cameron's "Feminism and Linguistic Theory", and a passage on offense and language guidelines in her article "Non-sexist Language: Lost in Translation?" which appears in her book "Language and Sexual Politics".

    –IP

  10. Brian Cronin said,

    March 21, 2010 @ 2:31 pm

    I hate being called "boss" by employees when I'm a customer.

  11. Bartleby said,

    March 21, 2010 @ 2:40 pm

    "That's why 'y'all' is so useful: it doesn't exclude anyone."

    "Youse" once served the same function, but now you only hear William Demarest saying it in old Preston Sturges movies.

  12. Ellen K. said,

    March 21, 2010 @ 2:42 pm

    Andy, your comparison between "you guys" and "you girls" misses the point that "you guys" applies to people of either gender, so it wouldn't be used to single out people as male, the way "you girls" does. The parallel to "you girls" would be "you boys".

  13. Pat said,

    March 21, 2010 @ 2:42 pm

    I've long been a proponent of gender-neutral "guys." I assume it's because there's no female equivalent–between girls, gals, ladies–that's not either condescending or awkward.

    Perhaps "ewe guys." A ha, ahahaha.

    I hate being called "boss" by employees when I'm a customer.

    Oh! I am SO with you.

  14. Rosie Redfield said,

    March 21, 2010 @ 2:55 pm

    This article seems to be making exactly the same argument that was, until very recently, made for using 'he', 'his' etc. to refer to both men and women. Using gender-neutral language is indeed sometimes a pain in the butt, but …

  15. Russell said,

    March 21, 2010 @ 3:48 pm

    So the (or a) question is: why is it that "guys" has been adopted for use as a gender-"neutral" term of reference? Why does there seem to be, as Pat notes, "no female equivalent–between girls, gals, ladies–that's not either condescending or awkward"? Simply an accident of English lexical semantics, or…?

  16. Bennifer Dover said,

    March 21, 2010 @ 3:59 pm

    So why is it that my fellow Linguists must needs behave in such a schoolmarmishly outraged fashion whenever they detect the unacceptable taint of "peeving?" Is it that they possess some kind of autism-spectrum disability, or just that they consider any deviation from the dogma of descriptivism, however minute, to be worthy of such a hissy fit?

    [(myl) Um, what? Erin McKean stood up for the right of all Americans to peeve as they please. And no one in the comments has objected to her principled stand, as far as i can see. So who are you complaining about?]

  17. Susan said,

    March 21, 2010 @ 4:06 pm

    At a wedding I observed a waitress in her 20s call two couples in their 70s "you guys." I was offended on the couples' behalf. It seemed disrespectful to me.

    And I detest when male co-workers call me "honey." It's so condescending. Every time it happens I resolve to call them "darling" back. But then I never have the guts to go through with it.

  18. Dan said,

    March 21, 2010 @ 4:36 pm

    I think for many people, "you guys" is a single lexical item whose meaning does not depend on the meaning of "guys", in the same way that the meaning of "y'all" does not depend on the meaning of "all". If I'm speaking to 2 women, I can say "Y'all are nice", but not "*All of you are nice" (since there are only 2 of them), and likewise, I can say "You guys are nice", but not "*You're nice guys" (since they're not guys).

  19. Alan Gunn said,

    March 21, 2010 @ 4:57 pm

    "…misses the point that "you guys" applies to people of either gender, so it wouldn't be used to single out people as male, the way "you girls" does. The parallel to "you girls" would be "you boys"."

    Not necessarily. While "guys" can be gender-neutral (unlike "guy"), it can also be used to refer to men only. It's a matter of context and, in speech, emphasis. Back when it was still doubtful whether the plural could include women, I saw a woman quoted as saying, "even guys use "guys" to include women."

    I've seen claims that "guys" is never used to refer to groups consisting entirely of women, but that is clearly not the case in northern Indiana.

  20. marie-lucie said,

    March 21, 2010 @ 5:05 pm

    This article seems to be making exactly the same argument that was, until very recently, made for using 'he', 'his' etc. to refer to both men and women.

    Theoretically, perhaps, but in pragmatic and sociological terms I don't think the situation is the same at all. The formerly recommended use of "he", etc as supposedly gender-neutral was a prescriptive rule for writing, a way to avoid colloquial singular "they" which was considered by purists to be ungrammatical, while the use of "you guys" as gender-neutral for a group is a spontaneous evolution in the language (like that of singular "they" which is much older). Plural "you guys" and singular "they" both are attempts to fill the perceived gaps in the English pronominal paradigm. "You guys" seems to have become the most common among several choices ("you all, yous, you people") mostly considered non-standard and banished in writing but alive and well in popular and everyday speech. In that context "guys" is becoming a suffix meaning "people", not just "males", otherwise it would not be used spontaneously by and for females as well.

  21. Ellen K. said,

    March 21, 2010 @ 5:07 pm

    Yes, the word "guys" can specify males. But "you guys" does not specify males. And "you guys" is the term/phrase Andy was talking about it. See Dan's point about it being a single lexical item.

    Perhaps, in speech, "you guys" could be used with stress on the "guys" to indicate males. But without that stress, it simply does not specify gender. "You girls" does, with or without stress on the word "girls".

  22. Rubrick said,

    March 21, 2010 @ 5:20 pm

    You can be offended at not being addressed "Commander SnorkelFritz, Hero Third Class of The Loompian Hegemony''

    Finally, someone who understands!

    – Cmd. SF

  23. Breffni said,

    March 21, 2010 @ 5:55 pm

    "Youse" is an Irish export, and it's still common in Dublin working class speech and in Northern Ireland. Outside Dublin the plural is "ye", which unlike "youse" never caught on (or was never revived) anywhere else.

  24. Liz Peña said,

    March 21, 2010 @ 6:08 pm

    I'm from California and often use, "you guys" to refer to a group. In Texas, I tell my students that "you guys" is Californian for "ya'll."

  25. tom leverett said,

    March 21, 2010 @ 6:18 pm

    I've never been able to resist entering this argument. My first point is that the mountain dialects had a perfectly good alternative (you'ns) but nobody else has ever been inclined to adopt it.

    Second, "you guys" is not so much an endearment to strangers, at least here in the Midwest where it's extremely common, as it is simply a plural form where plural is necessary. I work with teachers of internationals and try to teach them to listen to their own dialects and notice when expressions they use would be unacceptable outside of the dialect area, or, would not sound as natural as it sounds here, when used elsewhere. The fact is, these pronouns are being used more literally, and interpreted more literally. So, our choices for you plural are, "you folks", "you all" (which has its problems too) or nothing.

    I just can't sell anyone on "you'ns".

  26. Russell said,

    March 21, 2010 @ 6:28 pm

    @marie-lucie

    At the same time I think it's not unreasonable to point out that (or at least wonder if) the use of "you guys" reflects the markedness of terms for women as opposed to men, regardless of whether that markedness is the cause or reflection (or neither) of implicit social/cultural views. (Which would have been at work in gender-neutral "he," whatever the sociopragmatic differences between "he" as prescriptive and "you guys" as a result of naturally filling out a paradigm.) The point being, linguistic and social ideologies probably affect both conscious choices for writing advice and the relatively non-conscious choices made in everyday conversation.

  27. Emily Lilly said,

    March 21, 2010 @ 6:51 pm

    Has anyone tested the age-correlation for use of (and offense taken by) "guys" to include females?

    I have happily used it to refer to my fellow females for years now, and have never met any age mates who have a real problem with it. My mother, on the other hand, cringes every time my sister and I use it to refer to a group that includes her.

    Isn't it generally the case that a new word or a new use for an old word is disparaged by the older generation(s), until they all die off and no one is left to complain any more?

  28. Jake said,

    March 21, 2010 @ 6:58 pm

    I think the reason people (like me) use "you guys" is because we need some way to refer to mixed-gendered groups and don't have an easy way of doing so. My question: how do we (collectively) solve this problem? I responded to this post with some potential approaches, none of which are very satisfying.

    So: alternatives to "you guys"?

  29. Julie said,

    March 21, 2010 @ 7:32 pm

    As another Californian, I agree with "Californian for y'all." It's not new here. I've said it for about 50 years, and my mother (nearly 80) uses it unconsciously, just as I do. It's a set phrase, and applies to groups of both sexes. (For the record, I doubt I have ever said "you boys," or "you girls" for any reason. Those, to me, sound demeaning if not referring to children.)

    For me, "you guys" is sharply distinguished from other uses of "guys," as in, "are the guys back yet?" where the referents would be male. "Would'ja guys like a drink?" is an invitation to all, not just the male members of the group.

    I have always assumed that people offended by the usage come from elsewhere, where other second-person-plural pronouns (like y'all) are preferred. In that case, I can see why they might confuse it with other meanings of "guys."

  30. Ginger Yellow said,

    March 21, 2010 @ 8:05 pm

    I use "you guys" in a gender neutral way myself, mainly because it's very useful to have a second person plural and I'd feel silly saying "y'all" (I have a British accent). But I'm always conscious that someone take offence, so I do wish there were a good alternative.

  31. J.W. Brewer said,

    March 21, 2010 @ 8:56 pm

    It is possible to address a mixed-sex group as "you folks," which presumably avoids any lurking gender-markedness in "guys" while retaining the same level of comparative informality, but it sounds to my ear like something waiters or waitresses do (in establishments where they want to come across as informal but also not trigger any peevometers). I daresay I'd find it a weird usage coming from someone who wasn't angling for a tip. Although maybe it could be used by stand-up comics and other performers who would try to warm up a crowd by saying "How you folks doing tonight?"

  32. marie-lucie said,

    March 21, 2010 @ 10:04 pm

    I associate "you folks" with middle-aged and older people addressing strangers of their own age group ("where are you folks from?"), not a bunch of children or teenagers, who would themselves use "you guys" with their own age group, regardless of sex.

    I would guess that the waitress who said "you guys" to older people was probably young and to her the phrase was normal for addressing a group informally, while the listener who thought it was demeaning was probably at least middle-aged. Conversely, to me, "you folks" in that situation would have sounded condescending on the part of the young waitress, "talking down" to the older folks by using their own idiom!

    "You boys" or "you girls" could be said by an older person (at least parents' age and probably older) addressing two or more children of the same sex ("Where do you boys think you are going?") to emphasize the fact that the people thus addressed are not adults, but it would not be used by children or teenagers to address some of their own age group unless they absolutely needed to specify gender.

  33. Ginger Yellow said,

    March 21, 2010 @ 10:11 pm

    It is possible to address a mixed-sex group as "you folks," which presumably avoids any lurking gender-markedness in "guys" while retaining the same level of comparative informality, but it sounds to my ear like something waiters or waitresses do (in establishments where they want to come across as informal but also not trigger any peevometers).

    I have considered "you folks", but for me anyway it has the same problem as "y'all". It's just not something that a British person would say. And while I'm technically more American than British, I don't sound it.

  34. jeffrey said,

    March 22, 2010 @ 12:00 am

    Another Californian here. "You guys" is the only way that seems natural for me to address any group of people in casual speech – regardless of whether the groups are all male, mixed, or all female. It even seems natural to omit the "you" in "you guys". For example, as a vocative to get my students' attention I say "Guys!", or "OK, guys!"

    Side note: in my neighborhood grocery store, I have noticed what may have been a uniquely Californian T/V distinction: One of the clerks (a young male) addressed me as "dude" ("thanks, dude", as I handed him the signed credit card slip). Since I'm at least a full generation older than him, I thought it a bit odd, and started paying more attention on subsequent visits. Conclusions? He thanks every customer; females just get "thanks", males somewhere over 40 get "thanks, man" and males up to around 40 get "thanks, dude".

  35. Charles Belov said,

    March 22, 2010 @ 1:17 am

    I feel annoyed when I introduce myself to somebody trying to sell me services as "Charles" and they proceed to call me a diminutive. I don't (usually) raise a fuss but I will often choose not to do business with them.

  36. bfwebster said,

    March 22, 2010 @ 1:28 am

    I understand the women above who are bothered by the apparently condescending 'honey' from men. I would never do anything like that; the only woman to whom I would direct that endearment is my wife.

    On the other hand, reflect upon the fact that most times I end up traveling in the South on business and eat at a restaurant, the waitress (if it is a waitress) more often than not calls me 'Hon', 'Sweetie' or any of a few other such terms. And trust me, it's not because of my good looks or vibrant youth. I mostly find it amusing and a bit endearing. ..bruce..

  37. Christina said,

    March 22, 2010 @ 2:48 am

    Try living in the mid-east and being called "Sir" all the time…

    …when you're a WOMAN.

  38. Will said,

    March 22, 2010 @ 2:59 am

    There was a LL post just a few months ago that had a very similar theme to this one — especially the comment stream: http://languagelog.ldc.upenn.edu/nll/?p=2009

    Many of the comments there could just as well apply to this thread.

    Anyway, besides that I just wanted to add my 2 cents. I think "you guys" is standard not just in the Midwest and in California (the locales that commenters above particularly mentioned) but is standard everywhere in the United States except the South (where y'all takes its place). And when I say "standard" I mean standard for younger speakers.

    And like someone above pointed out, I hate that Erin McKean started off by comparing the term "you guys" to "honey" and "sugar" — the latter terms and others like them frequently are genuinely diminutive or otherwise offensive terms that one can validly object to, whereas "you guys" is simply a second-person plural in many standard dialects. By putting them on the same footing, she starts off with an analogy that the very point of her article is out to defeat, Yes, I understand that she goes on to explain how "you guys" differs, but I still think that was the wrong way to introduce the article.

    And like bfwester pointed out, some terms like "Hon" and "Sweetie", said by women and addressed to men, are simply part of a polite dialect in parts of the South. And in that respect these terms (when used in this context) are like "you guys" — they are completely neutral, even though they may these terms may be diminutive and/or gendered terms in other dialects or in other contexts in the same dialect.

  39. Mark P said,

    March 22, 2010 @ 4:02 am

    some terms like "Hon" and "Sweetie", said by women and addressed to men, are simply part of a polite dialect in parts of the South. And in that respect these terms (when used in this context) are like "you guys" — they are completely neutral,

    Can you type that without smirking?

    No-one in their right minds thinks "Sweetie" is neutral in tone. If it is, why is there no equivalent term for men? And would you address a female police-officer as "Sweetie" in an attempt to get off a speeding ticket?

  40. Graeme said,

    March 22, 2010 @ 4:24 am

    'Guys' (and 'gals') used to invoke not just language peeves in AustEng, but outright Anti-Americanism.

  41. David Cantor said,

    March 22, 2010 @ 4:35 am

    Mark P, you miss Will's point. "Sweetie" in my experience in the South is almost always a term for men. It is very common in service situations (restaurant, grocery store cashier) for a female employee to say "Sweetie," "Darlin'," or "Honey" to virtually every male customer she encounters. Not intended to diminish or insult, but simply as a way to be friendly. And I have been addressed by a female police officer as "Honey" as she writes out the ticket.

  42. Picky said,

    March 22, 2010 @ 6:40 am

    Well … it all depends on context.

    This sub-branch of peevology is called Good Manners. Good Manners is about setting aside ones personal preferences, putting other people at ease, and avoiding pointless offence. When I enter a church I remove my hat, when I enter a mosque I remove my shoes; but I am neither Christian nor Muslim. I would address a priest as "Father", the head of the US Administration as "Mr President" and the Queen as "Ma'am"; that doesn't make me a Catholic, an American or a Royalist, it just means I am seeking the terms they will find appropriately respectful.

    When a previously-unknown salesman calls me by my first name I dislike it: it is akin to someone invading my personal space by standing too close. When my son calls me by an insulting family nickname I like it: it reaffirms our closeness.

    When a waiter in his early twenties calls my wife and me "Guys" (we are British and extraordinarily ancient) we find this inappropriately chummy. When a young friend or relative calls us "You Guys" we find it charming.

    None of this carries logical or grammatical import: good manners in address is as silly and peevy and meaningless (and important) as all the other twists and turns of social interaction. We all get the rules wrong sometimes (by misjudging what our addressees will find acceptable) but, happily, we most of us keep on trying.

  43. Nicholas Waller said,

    March 22, 2010 @ 7:48 am

    For younger serving staff addressing much older customers, "Are you ready to order?" seems sufficent without saying "you guys", "you chaps" and so on. (Guys and chaps is generally gender-neutral; "blokes" is male only, but you wouldn't ask "are you blokes" doing this or that or the other.)

    "You folks" is kind of un-British. Also, to me it has a hint of the passive-aggressive: I am willing to give you the benefit of the doubt and consider you folks like I am folks, but I'm watching for signs of you not being folks. I would be particularly suspicious if a policeman said it.

    On the "boss" front, when I had a stand once at a publishing exhibition in Zimbabwe I noticed that many of the (black) staff at the exhibition and the hotel would call me "boss", which I found a bit depressing. This was in 1993 and maybe it's not common now.

    In Somerset, where I live, bar staff and the like are liable to call you "my lover". And more generally in the UK, people like Nurses have been thinking about the suitability of calling older patients "love" or "dearie".

  44. CEAD said,

    March 22, 2010 @ 7:50 am

    I'm from Oregon, and it's a gender-neutral group reference pronoun for me too. The possessive form for me is "you guys's", though, not "your guys's".

  45. Anthony said,

    March 22, 2010 @ 8:02 am

    In South African English we often use 'people' in this way : "Hey, people, the keg is out on the terrace." "Could you people excuse us, please?" "Come on, people, we need to hurry."

    In each example, the word 'people' can be omitted without any change of meaning, and I have yet to find an example where the same doesn't hold for 'guys'.

    I see that Jake labels 'people' as "coarse" (without any attempt to justify the label) or as having "historical/racial baggage of its own" – which may be true in his environment or in his opinion, but are certainly not globally true.

    @ IrrationalPoint — Calling the other guy by a diminutive is a nice tactic, and one which I have had occasion to push to an extreme. When one of our auditors (Gary) addressed me as Ant instead of Anthony I put on a very camp voice and said "Oh, Gazz, I never realised you felt that way about me."

    Not only diminutives annoy. I had a colleague who persisted in calling me Antonius, and in four years it never lost the annoyance factor.

  46. [links] Link salad wakes up without lifetime coverage limitations on its cancer treatment | jlake.com said,

    March 22, 2010 @ 8:15 am

    […] Hey guys! Yes, ladies, this means you — I'm one of those people in whose idiolect "guys" can refer to an entirely female group. (Nicked from Language Log.) […]

  47. Zubon said,

    March 22, 2010 @ 8:36 am

    Upper Midwest (Michigan) concurrence on "you guys" as a common gender-neutral plural, although I switched to "y'all" about a decade ago because I think it's a better term. It has not caught on. I share the observation on all variations of "hon"/"sweetie"/whatever being common, gender-neutral terms in the vocabularies of female service employees, primarily waitstaff. Personally, I find it an annoying habit this far north, with an exception for waitstaff; my wife makes no exception for waitstaff and finds it inappropriately diminutive and/or familiar.

    Advantage of a non-Anglo name: 99% of the Americans have no idea what the diminutive form is.

  48. delagar said,

    March 22, 2010 @ 9:06 am

    "…you miss Will's point."

    Yeah, I don't know. I wasn't there when the female police officer gave you the ticket, so I don't know the context, whether she was being snotty, or whether the two of you were flirting, or what was up; but I think the former point being made about most of us *not* calling police officers "honey" or "darling" holds.

    I live and have lived in the South most of my life — grew up in New Orleans, taught ay Johnson C. Smith U. in NC, and now teach in Arkansas — and women in the service industry have been calling me darling and honey and sugar and hon and sweetie all my life. Almost all of them call my husband, who is large and projects a gruff authority, sir.

    Women who are equal or close to me in rank, or above me in rank — my physician, the chair of my department, other professors, the provost, the local librarian — never call me sweetie or hon. Men almost never do this either, btw. Oh, an occasional man will, but he's generally, I have found, someone deeply uncertain of his status, or upset by mine.

    Police officers, FWIW, always call me ma'am when they're giving me tickets.

    My point, and I do have one, is that the use of the diminutive seems to me designed as an attack on the status of someone who appears to be above you in the pecking order, who you think should not be above you in the pecking order, and whom you want to call down/bring down a step or two.

  49. language hat said,

    March 22, 2010 @ 9:30 am

    What marie-lucie said (as always; she's probably the most knowledgeable and sensible commenter I know).

    I think the reason people (like me) use "you guys" is because we need some way to refer to mixed-gendered groups and don't have an easy way of doing so. My question: how do we (collectively) solve this problem? I responded to this post with some potential approaches, none of which are very satisfying.

    Of course they're not satisfying; nothing a few people on a website come up with is going to affect the usage of the vast majority of speakers. People have (collectively) solved this problem by coming up with "you guys"; whether you like it or not, it's here and it's not going away, so I suggest everyone get used to it. Unless, of course, one positively enjoys taking offense, which clearly some people do.

  50. J.W. Brewer said,

    March 22, 2010 @ 10:11 am

    I hope I'm not contradicting Hat by saying marie-lucie seems to have experienced "you folks" in a narrower variety of speech situations than I have, which of course may just mean that they talk funny up there in Canada, eh? But I will say in a way that's hopefully somewhat consonant with m-l's point that "you guys" is broader in that in can cover a younger age range, whereas "you folks" would seem odd to me if no one in the group being addressed was at least past, say 25 (so not necessarily old-old, but not young-young either). This makes "guys" especially handy when dealing with groups including females in that linguistically awkward transitional phase from say 17 to 22 where using either "girls" or "women" may be politically or socially risky unless you know your audience very well. (To be fair, both "boys" and "men" can often seem problematic for males in the same age range, although the political context is different.)

  51. Ken Grabach said,

    March 22, 2010 @ 10:15 am

    I think a lot of this discussion bears out Erin McKean's point, anyone has the right to be peeved at whatever term of address peeves you, even if others are not peeved at it. I have been called "sweetie", "honey", and "hon" (I can't recall "sugar" being used) by waitresses in the South, and elsewhere. In the context it was to me friendly and not flirtatious, kind without being demeaning. Some seem to perceive it as a label of inferior status. To me it was simply being friendly, it might reflect an age difference, with the speaker being older than me, but this is not consistent.

    I have also heard the same terms used toward women in a similar social context. My wife heard "hon" a lot in Baltimore, to the extent she can't stand it. She gets peeved, where I do not. So be it, we are both excercising our personal right, I guess.

  52. David said,

    March 22, 2010 @ 11:37 am

    @Sili: What I always find troubling about Sainsbury's (at least in Sheffield) is that I may be called "Sir" one day and "mate" the next, at least by the male cashiers. I don't perceive the same difference in formality between "luv", "darling" and "sweetheart" (used, as in the US South, by women to men), though the latter two are also slightly disconcerting at first.

    I don't know if Danes have the same habit as Swedes of addressing their royals in third person: "What did the King think of the Swedish gold in the Olympic cross-country relay?" Speaking of which, a survey presented today by Språket, Radio Sweden's weekly language show, shows that 60 percent prefer to address the King by the informal "du" – elsewhere in society, "du" has been the norm since the collapse of the T/V distinction ca. 1970. (Saying "herr statsminister", or even "herr Reinfeldt", to the Prime Minister is completely unthinkable. If you're PM, you're on first-name terms with everyone.)

  53. Will said,

    March 22, 2010 @ 11:48 am

    @Ken: There's an entire restaurant / bar / boutique in Baltimore called Cafe Hon: http://www.cafehon.com/. Their website certainly seems to be playing on the local familiarity of the term.

  54. marie-lucie said,

    March 22, 2010 @ 12:09 pm

    In England it seems very common for women in positions that interact with the public (saleswomen, waitresses, etc) to address at least female customers as "dear" or "luv" or "darling". My (male) hairdresser of long standing is from England and calls his female clients of any age "luv" or "darling", and that is friendly and not flirtatious. Here in Nova Scotia (a socially very conservative province) older women in those positions often call me "dear", while nowadays I usually get "ma'am" from male counterparts both young and old (I am plenty old enough for that form of address). I prefer to hear those forms rather than my first name from strangers who learn it from reading my credit card.

  55. Russell said,

    March 22, 2010 @ 12:19 pm

    @language hat

    But is there really no ground between "get used to it" and "take offense"? Or rather, no additional stance that can be taken wrt the expression? I personally am a frequent user and use-ee of "you guys", and expect this to continue into the foreseeable future. I am used to it and take no offense. But I think there are sociolinguistic issues (including, yes, language-and-gender issues) surrounding its spread and current popularity which are useful to point out and explore, and which taking a pure "hate it or embrace it" stance can obscure.

    (And upon self-reflection, I might find that I am somewhat disturbed by the possible explanations for why this particular expression seems so natural (vs you girls/gals) to me, and seemed so natural to the people who began to use the expression this way, and what it says about me/them. It doesn't mean I think I should become a linguistic activist, for the exact reason you mentioned — language change doesn't happen that way — or even be worried at all about my everyday language use. It's just something to think about (or write a paper about, if that's your thing).

  56. D. Sky Onosson said,

    March 22, 2010 @ 12:32 pm

    Chris Kern said: The possessive, of course, is "your guys's [guyzez]". I always wondered about that double possessive.

    Up here in Manitoba, I commonly run across (and produce myself on occasion, I'm sure): you's guys's, also a double plural with a "regularized" plural on the pronoun, which I find interesting.

    Generally, I agree with what jeffrey said: It even seems natural to omit the "you" in "you guys".

    I use guys (no you) with a non-gendered plural referent all the time. Eg: "Hey, guys", "Hi guys", or if my kids (a girl and a boy) are fighting: "Guys!" For me it has no connotation of gender at all in this context, though of course it can be contrasted with women where it has male (and adult) reference.

  57. Sarah J said,

    March 22, 2010 @ 12:34 pm

    Back in my home state of MIchigan, the proper term for a group is indeed "youse guys."

  58. Don said,

    March 22, 2010 @ 12:35 pm

    In recognition of two of my mother's peeves, my father had a button made for her to wear in restaurants: "I pour my own beer, and don't call me Hon."

  59. HeyTeach said,

    March 22, 2010 @ 1:27 pm

    When my wife moved to TX ("y'all") from CA ("you guys") at the age of four, her usage naturally morphed into "y'all guys."

    I've heard "you'uns" ("you ones"), too.

    But if there's no obvious title beyond the obvious (Mr. Mrs. Miss. Ms. etc.), do you have the right to complain when people, out of ignorance, don't address you according to you preference? If someone doesn't KNOW you're Dr. So-and-so, how can you expect them to use it? Correct the first timers? Let it come up naturally in conversation? Wear a name badge for ever and always?

    But people who take offense at the "you guys" thing misunderstand regional usage, I think. Which is okay, because McKean so kindly gives me, in turn, permission to be offended at such people.

  60. Gareth said,

    March 22, 2010 @ 1:35 pm

    I run a small retail business in San Francisco, and recently two women were in the store carefully looking at one of the items on display – with their backs to me. As is my usual habit, I called out: "Hey guys. Let me know if there is something I can help you with." They turn around to face me and I realize that my customers are two ugly/beautiful transvestites out on the town on a Friday night (which actually is not that uncommon a sight in this fair town). But I still wonder to this day whether they took my greeting as a judgment on their ability to pass.

  61. TootsNYC said,

    March 22, 2010 @ 1:54 pm

    I really hate the idea that people have a right to get *offended* about anything they want.

    You can MIND it, you can not like it–but you don't have the right to "take offense."

    There's a subtle distinction there, and I personally value it.

  62. J. W. Brewer said,

    March 22, 2010 @ 2:03 pm

    I think the Baltimorean vocative "hon" has evolved to the point where it stands in as sort of a synecdoche for all the distinctive features of the local dialect of English and local pride therein. Thus, while I have never been able to personally confirm the rumor (mostly because I haven't spent any time on it) that the local tourism authorities actually at one point put up signs saying "Welcome to Baltimore, Hon!" there is at least a website at http://www.welcometobaltimorehon.com and lots and lots of similar usages. Of course, my question is why not "Welcome to Bawlmer, Hon"? (I'm not sure where "hon"-usage currently is in terms of how it varies by sex of user / sex of addressee, but I expect there's data out there!)

  63. J. W. Brewer said,

    March 22, 2010 @ 2:12 pm

    Sorry – should have made this explicit in the prior comment. My thesis is that Baltimorean "hon" has evolved to a place where local usage (as magnified in pride therein) is the dominant theme, and outsiders trying to apply general theories they've concocted about the social function and political implications of "gendered" endearments aren't going to get anywhere useful, although they could probably succeed in annoying the locals if they set their mind to it.

  64. language hat said,

    March 22, 2010 @ 2:41 pm

    which taking a pure "hate it or embrace it" stance can obscure.

    But that's not what I said. I don't expect anyone to "embrace" usages that they start out resisting and disliking; heaven knows there are an increasing number of usages that I myself regret seeing and have no intention of ever employing ("may have" for "might have" is the one I usually trot out in these discussions). But actively taking offense — getting upset, having one's blood pressure rise, writing angry comments whenever the issue comes up — seems to me silly unless it's something genuinely worth the effort and possible shortening of lifespan. Slavery, gulags, mass murder? Sure. "You guys"? Not so much.

  65. grackle said,

    March 22, 2010 @ 3:21 pm

    I find it distasteful to be referred to in a group, particularly by a wait person, as "you guys." I don't know that this constitutes taking offense but the usage signals to me an inappropriate sense of familiarity, in that I prefer a modicum of formality when I don't personally know the party with whom I am interacting. Reading the comments here, it seems that most of you guys think that public familiarity with strangers is always appropriate.

    So: alternatives to "you guys"?
    Why does a simple singular or plural 'you' not suffice? As in "how can I help you?"

  66. Lasse said,

    March 22, 2010 @ 3:27 pm

    I routinely use "you guys" whenever I'm addressing more than a single person, even in the case of groups of females with nary a male in sight. I don't remember ever getting in trouble on that account, but even if I did, it'd probably only serve to strengthen my resolve to keep up the practice.

  67. D. Sky Onosson said,

    March 22, 2010 @ 3:39 pm

    grackle said: Why does a simple singular or plural 'you' not suffice? As in "how can I help you?"

    I suppose that there may be times when context doesn't disambiguate which you is intended – using an explicitly plural form makes it, well, explicit.

  68. Lasse said,

    March 22, 2010 @ 3:54 pm

    ^^^ This, I think is the raison d'être of these extended forms in a nutshell.

  69. Nathan Myers said,

    March 22, 2010 @ 5:14 pm

    Susan: By the evidence you present, they're right and you're wrong. By the same criteria, Don's mother is in the right, presuming she wears the button.

    There was a recent kerfuffle over "you guys" involving a public address by Mark Shuttleworth, CEO of a company called Canonical, owner of a Free Software distribution called Ubuntu, noted at http://blog.linuxtoday.com/blog/2009/09/mark-shuttlewor-1.html . What I found noteworthy was that Shuttleworth carefully distinguished between "guys" (neutral) and "guy" (male), a distinction his critic failed to note. By my lights, the critic was entirely wrong, for that reason, and has poisoned the discourse by trivializing it with trivial vocabulary peevology.

  70. chocolatepie said,

    March 22, 2010 @ 5:25 pm

    Cynthia Heimel did a whole essay on the lack of a female plural pronoun in the early '90s (She protested her male coworker greeting the women of the office with "Hello, ladies"). Little did I know it would be my informal introduction to sociolinguistics.

    She argues for "guys" to be used as gender-neutral, and as an impressionable youth I took the crusade to heart and have used it consciously to refer to any-gender amalgamations ever since. No one bats an eye when I use it for all-female groups in the Midwest, but I'm sure the reaction varies considerably by peer group.

  71. Russell said,

    March 22, 2010 @ 5:38 pm

    actively taking offense — getting upset, having one's blood pressure rise, writing angry comments whenever the issue comes up — seems to me silly

    I suppose perhaps there's some difference in lexical semantics. I wouldn't "take offense" at the things you mentioned (though they are "offensive"). In any case, I see more clearly your point now; I simply felt there were some sociopragmatic issues surrounding "you guys," easily overlooked when the focus is on peevology.

  72. Ellen K. said,

    March 22, 2010 @ 6:50 pm

    Interesting, chocolatepie. For me, "you guys" was already gender neutral before the early 90s. I distinctly remember using it in the 80s (as I was only in that place in the 80s) for a group of all females, and noticing the contrast between that use of "guys" within "you guys", versus the 3rd person descriptive use where is specifies males (as in, "cute guys").

  73. Ellen K. said,

    March 22, 2010 @ 6:54 pm

    When I got involved in forums on the internet way back in the 90s, I consciously chose to use "you all" rather than "you guys" as I figured "you guys" might be misunderstood. I've been surprised to discover since then how wide spread "you guys" is. I still stick with "you all" and I suspect it's cropped into my speech, though I don't often have use of any of the forms in speech. Although, in speech "you all" comes out close to "y'all", but in writing, the two are distinct.

  74. Eneri Rose said,

    March 22, 2010 @ 7:23 pm

    I'm a middle aged woman from the mid-Atlantic region of the US. To me, "you guys" or even "yous guys" is perfectly acceptable when referring to male or female or mixed groups. If I want to be more formal, I use Ladies/Gentleman. And, I always use Ladies/ Gentleman with children to model appropriate address and to elicit mature behavior.

    I think "Ma'am" is a great way of obviating the need to meddle into the marital affairs of a woman. I don't mind being called it and I use "Ma'am" and "Sir" all the time when conducting business. To gain attention, I say "Excuse me, Sir/Ma'am."

    On using the diminutive of a person's name without permission, I actually do the opposite. Although I respect a person's right to be called by whatever name they like, I don't much care for "nick names". I recently met a woman introduced to me as Kathy. I asked her if her name was Kathleen. She said it was and I proceeded to call her Kathleen the rest of the night. To me, Kathy is at best for a little girl, not for a grown woman.

    If I am addressed as "honey" or the like, I simply do not reply. I act as if I had not been spoken to.

    Once, I was servicing a client and said "Ma'am" several times, before he corrected me. I felt bad, and later my husband consoled me by saying it took him years of servicing folks with alternative life styles and genders to be able to accurately determine the appropriate form of address! Of course, this begs the question of why we need to make a gender distinction in the first place.

  75. Nathan Myers said,

    March 22, 2010 @ 10:03 pm

    Eneri Rosee: Whenever I hear "service" used as a verb, my first impression is always that it refers to the role of the bull in getting calves, or something more or less directly analogous. (Secondary associations are with maintenance on mechanical apparatus — particularly refrigeration systems, for reasons I don't understand.) Nothing else suggests your or your husband's line of work, so what you do say strikes me as pleasantly frank.

  76. Bloix said,

    March 22, 2010 @ 11:38 pm

    "This is America; you're allowed to be offended by whatever you choose."

    i suppose that anyone is allowed to do or say things that signal to others that you're a person to be avoided if possible. But I don't think that people with power over others (e.g, bosses) have a right to browbeat and intimidate by taking offense were none is intended.

  77. Nicholas Waller said,

    March 23, 2010 @ 5:53 am

    On names – international cricketers often refer to each other in public (press conferences, for instance) in diminutive name form, if it can be called that as it is often longer, but usually a form of the surname. Presumably this is because using a straight surname is rather formal for a team mate or treasured opponent – Bell, Strauss, Warne, Collingwood – but a first name is too in-crowdy and not specific enough: Ian, Andrew, Shane, Paul.

    So the above are referred to as Belly, Straussy, Warnie, Colly. What if your name already has a "y" ending? Almost inevitably, the Australian batsman Michael Hussy is called "Huss".

    Andrew Flintoff is called neither Andy nor Flinty but "Freddie" after some association with Fred Flintstone.

    On people: to me it is not a neutral term, there is something dodgy about calling a bunch of people "you people" or "these people" – it carries a hint of a formless stereotyped mass of the somehow contemptible: bankers, unemployed, trustafarians, Brussels bureaucrats, various ethnic or gender groups being lined up for denial of rights and so on. In smaller groups, it hints of troublemakers: "These… people… are complaining".

    So the bluntness of "people" has to be offset with "good" or "fine" or somesuch – "And what what do you good people want to order?" is more likely than "And what do you people want to order?". "Guys" somehow assumes that the guys are good guys – "What do you guys want to order?".

  78. Cecily said,

    March 23, 2010 @ 6:01 am

    @Eneri Rose: How can you say "I respect a person's right to be called by whatever name they like" and then recount that although a woman introduced herself as Kathy, you insisted on calling her Kathleen? If that is how she introduced herself, it's not for you decide otherwise. It's just as bad as me introducing myself as Cecily and the other person unilaterally deciding to abbreviate it to Cec.

    Returning to the original topic, in England, y'all and you's aren't really options, "guys" is common, and some people also use "peeps" or "guys and gals". To English ears, "sir" and "ma'am" are too archaic and deferential (or sarcastic) for normal use.

  79. minus273 said,

    March 23, 2010 @ 6:46 am

    Speaking of Mark Shuttleworth's neutral "guys", English-speaking Computer Science professors of various origin seem to use "guy" and "guys" as a deictic to anything on the whiteboard.
    "If we compare (pointing to a variable in an equation) this guy to (pointing to another variable) this guy…"
    But I'm in France and maybe the usage is influenced by French "truc", "machin", "bordelle" (thingie, whorehouse), used in the same way.

  80. George said,

    March 23, 2010 @ 9:46 am

    No particular point to make, more just contributing to the sum of knowledge :).

    I'm Irish, middle class (in the eastern side of the Atlantic sense), male, in my 40s. I use 'you guys' unselfconsciously in addressing mixed-sex groups in casual contexts and have done so, I guess, for between 10 and 15 years. I certainly didn't do so as a student in the 1980s (although 'lads' may have been an option; for some reason I have a doubt about that – any other Irish out there with a view?). I don't think I would use 'you guys' spontaneously with an all-female group.

    On possible alternatives, I would have used 'youse' when I lived in Donegal (North-West) as a child and 'ye' when I lived (again as a child) in Sligo (still West, a bit further South). I subsequently moved to Dublin and have since lived largely outside Ireland and would only use either of those terms in a quasi-parodic (but not mocking) manner now, with people who had lived in the places where they are used. But that's not exactly the same thing, as they were just straightforward pronouns, not terms of address as such.

    I could never imagine myself saying 'y'all' with a straight face and think that 'people' has a ring of authority (or mock-authority) about it, as in "OK, people, listen up".

  81. Aaron Mintz said,

    March 23, 2010 @ 10:14 am

    There's a decent discussion of the issue with regards to using "Ladies", from Metafilter last year here.

  82. Hansei said,

    March 23, 2010 @ 10:42 am

    I was a lounge performer on a cruise ship for 6 months as 1/4 of a barbershop quartet. Addressing the audience as "you guys" NEVER went over well for us; some of the guests voiced their concerns to us after the show was over and others shouted retorts just before we began to sing. It conditioned me to saying "you all" or "you ladies and gentlemen"

  83. Jim R said,

    March 23, 2010 @ 3:27 pm

    I am reminded of the equivalent to "guys" in other languages.

    In German, Kinder (literally "children" even when adults are meant). As in "Mensch Kinder nee!" = "oh man, kids/guys, no way".

    In Hebrew, chevre (an offshoot of "chaver" friend, but meaning group of friends). Common usage might be: "chevre, tachshov al ze" = "friends/guys, think about it".

    When I hear Kinder or chevre like this, I think "guys". There is an emotional personal connection being expressed that is the same. And the German, like the English, is not literally accurate and could lead to a discussion like this.

  84. ignoramus said,

    March 23, 2010 @ 5:29 pm

    There will always be a segment of society that will never be in agreement with any given subject. 'Tis best to not to ruffle the plumed feathers that will see the glass half empty.

    Name or form of address is the opening battle on a relationship, if your form of introduction is accepted then it is a pleasant form of intercourse, otherwise you will have an uphill fight to having a pleasant meeting of unlike minds,
    Good day ye'all, ducks, ducky, hen, hon, matey, luvy, me old china, mister, mistress, me laydie , deary , you kids, me laud,………..

  85. Will said,

    March 24, 2010 @ 1:00 am

    Good day ye'all, ducks, ducky, hen, hon, matey, luvy, me old china, mister, mistress, me laydie , deary , you kids, me laud

    I prefer to be called Commander SnorkelFritz, Hero Third Class of The Loompian Hegemony, thank you very much.

  86. Nicholas Waller said,

    March 24, 2010 @ 8:03 am

    @ Cecily – "as bad as me introducing myself as Cecily and the other person unilaterally deciding to abbreviate it to Cec."

    ObMontyPython, from their very first ever episode, series 1 number 1, a sketch called "It's The Arts", where a TV presenter is interviewing film director Sir Edward Ross. After asking if it is OK to call him just 'Edward', the presenter proceeds – without permission and to the increasing irritation of Sir Edward – to call him a succession of less suitable names:

    Ross – "I'm sorry, I'm sorry, but I don't like being called 'Eddie-baby'"
    […]
    Interviewer – "I didn't really call you Eddie-baby, did I, sweetie?"

  87. marie-lucie said,

    March 24, 2010 @ 1:02 pm

    I took the bus in the middle of the day, when there were few passengers. The driver (a woman about 40) called me "my darling" as she handed me a transfer ticket. As I said good-bye to her on my way out, she said "have a nice afternoon, dear".

  88. Cecily said,

    March 24, 2010 @ 1:12 pm

    If you go to Bristol and parts of SW England you may be startled to be addressed as "My lover". It certainly took me by surprise when I first encountered it as a student, said by a middle aged "guy" on a checkout.

  89. Colin John said,

    March 25, 2010 @ 9:23 am

    'Luv' as an address by either sex to either sex is still alive and well in much of Yorkshire and other parts of Northern England.

  90. nfurman said,

    March 25, 2010 @ 11:12 am

    I am in my early 60s, and female. "Guys" has been common useage (including females) all my life, and I take no umbrage at it. Nebr/Colo area, and I remember explaining this fact of life to Californians in college. It is what it is, a nice gender neutral way to address a group. "Girls" would have been annoying and , well, snotty. And exclusionarry. And not useful in a mixed group.

  91. Kate Y. said,

    March 25, 2010 @ 12:55 pm

    It was asserted for decades that "he" and "…man" were gender-neutral. That did not make it true.
    Just because a phrase is common, does not mean it cannot be sexist.
    Just because one's intentions are pure, does not mean one's actions aren't sexist.
    Just because one "uses 'guys' in a gender-neutral way" does not mean it IS.

  92. Ken Brown said,

    March 25, 2010 @ 2:20 pm

    So what do I say? I mean, what do I say to address an arbitrary mixed-sex group as one? I have no idea. I can't remember addressing an arbitrary mixed-sex group as one. Its not something that comes up as far as I remember. "Guys" isn't vary rare, though I don;t think its universal and I don't think I use it myself (not having a database of everything I've said for the last fifty-something years I can't be sure) and it still primarily refers to men.

    Maybe I'm being tremendously uninsightful. I suspect that if I did suddenly feel the need to think up some phrase to use to address an arbitrary mixed-sex group as one I would plump for "you all" which sounds the most natural English to me. (Not "y'all" unless I was trying to sound like a fake American)

    The hon/sweetie/darlin/lover/ thing is different really. They are used to address individuals. Here in the South East of England we have lots of words for that between men. "Mate" is probably the most common but I've been called "geezer", "feller", "bruv" and other things just in the last few days. It seems less common to talk to women in that way but you might still hear "love" or "darling" used to a barmaid in a pub. Actually "love" and "darling" can be used by either sex of the other, women can say it to men as well.

  93. ...just don't call me late for dinner! said,

    March 25, 2010 @ 3:28 pm

    I'm a male living in the South. Women commonly call me "sugar," "honey," and even "heart." The thought that I'd be offended by this is completely foreign to me. In fact, there's a correlation between people who use those terms and people are are friendly and easy to get along with.

    On topic, this could all be avoided if the seemingly neutral phrase "you people" didn't have such a decidedly hostile connotation.

  94. Nathan Myers said,

    March 25, 2010 @ 9:59 pm

    Kate Y: Fine on (2) and (3). On (1), "man" has changed more than once; once it really was neutral, and there was a different word that implied male, but it went away. Dead wrong on (4). Sometimes language changes in response to people working to change it. Sometimes it changes accidentally, or for crazy or even stupid reasons.

    What language means is what people mean. "Man", lately, changed / was changed in response to the realization that it didn't say what people were beginning to choose to mean. Change what people mean, and you've changed the language. For the better? It's unlikely anybody can tell. I'd like to eiminate "alot" and "alright", but hold out little hope.

  95. Cecily said,

    March 26, 2010 @ 4:42 am

    @Nathan: Are you in the US?

    I've only ever come across "alot" in the context of Americans complaining of its prevalence, but I've never seen it in the wild.

    As for "alright", in England it is at least as common as "all right", and many people do not see it as an error. By analogy, I wonder if you or anyone else would prefer "altogether" and "already" to be split as well?

  96. ...just don't call me late for dinner! said,

    March 26, 2010 @ 11:39 am

    Interesting question, Cecily. "Altogether" and "all together" have distinct meanings, as do "already" and "all ready." "We're already all ready" (or vice versa) is a perfectly grammatical sentence. It certainly sounds odd though.

    Conversely, "alot" and "a lot" mean the same thing, unless you're using "lot" in the real estate sense. Same with "alright" and "all right." I rarely see either "alot" or "alright," although I do remember writing a paper in ninth or tenth grade that came back with "alot" circled in red, with a note asking "is this even a word?" The teacher and I looked it up, and we decided it wasn't. I haven't used it since.

  97. ignoramus said,

    March 26, 2010 @ 1:32 pm

    How many ways are there to say Hi to a[n] homo sapiens?
    It is easy to greet a known acquaintance, In the olden days , a man would doff his hat and utter a simple greeting based on the perceive status of the person addressed, same for an unknown category, as attested to in the rear of most dictionaries.
    Now one must be friendly to one and all, and say friendly words to the unknown person, but one cannot look at another person and guess their pecking order [status] and what words be offensive and which ones be welcome.
    Many languages have as many as 100 words to indicate one noun, e.g. duck for example-mallard.
    In English, there are an unknown number of friendly/unfriendly words [ as interpolated by the victim that will elicit differing results ] to say a friendly greeting. [ a friend which always has been a most misused word, as most people are not your friend, they be friendly and not belligerent but will become so on using the incorrect greeting word.

    So may it be best to mumble, "stuttter" mornin' folks?????
    So what is the least offensive greeting that will not get the bile flowing?

  98. Ellen K. said,

    March 26, 2010 @ 2:05 pm

    Kate Y, the difference between "guys" as gender neutral and "he" and "man" as gender neutral, is with "guys" there is a specific context where it's gender neutral. When talking to people, rather than about them. That usage is gender neutral.

    On the other hand, I recently came across an exchange where someone referred to "the guys who do the census" and a female responded saying "as one of those guys…". There, I think what you say does apply. It's not used there to specify gender (in contrast to "cute guys" or "guys are pigs"), but I don't think that makes it truly gender neutral.

    However, "you guys" really is gender neutral for those who use it.

  99. D. Sky Onosson said,

    March 26, 2010 @ 3:12 pm

    On a related note, are people also offended by the use of "man" to address a female? I occasionally find myself saying to a female colleague "hey, man" – though this is usually in certain contexts (I'm in the music business, and the times I recall doing this it was with another musician I was working with). Certainly doesn't have any gender association for me when I use it in that scenario.

  100. Catherine Arnott Smith said,

    March 26, 2010 @ 8:12 pm

    Another vote here for "guys" being used in the Midwest. I am a female academic, 50 years old. I have lived all over the country and am first-generation American, with parents from different European countries, but I was born in Iowa and lived there until relocating to the East Coast in 1969. So I have an odd mix of Britishisms and Midwesternisms that confuse people sometimes. I distinctly remember the odd stares I got in Massachusetts as a child when I routinely used "guys" to refer to groups of people. It's a relief, frankly, to see others reporting they grew up with the same language.

  101. Ellen K. said,

    March 26, 2010 @ 10:00 pm

    @D. Sky Onosson. I don't see "man" in that instance as referring to the person being spoken to, but as a meaningless filler word, so I don't think it would bother me.

  102. D. Sky Onosson said,

    March 27, 2010 @ 4:12 am

    @Ellen K. When I've used it as I describe, it's definitely referential (for me) to the person I'm speaking to. I have no idea if that's how they take it, but that's certainly how it's intended.

  103. Cecily said,

    March 27, 2010 @ 7:05 pm

    What about "dude"? The COED says it's "a stylish and confident MAN", but I have colleagues who use it a lot to each other (invariably in the singular) and I wouldn't feel affronted if they used it to me.

  104. JL said,

    March 27, 2010 @ 8:24 pm

    Oh, Lord, the many ways people get offended…

    Interestingly (I hope), I know far more women who dislike being called "ma'am" than dislike being called "sweetie", though the former is obviously meant to be a term of politeness and respect. I myself used to bridle at being called "sir", especially by people in uniform — not because it made me feel old, or because it ran counter to my democratic spirit (though it does), but because it implied that I was part of a hierarchy that I'd never signed on for or endorsed.

    In time I realized that it's almost impossible to get a soldier to stop saying "sir", and otiose to try.

  105. Michelle said,

    August 19, 2011 @ 12:33 am

    Interesting post..for everyone that says "you guys" is gender neutral, how come all these articles out there have headings like "How to make GUYS want you", "What GUYS mean when they say …". You CANNOT have the same word that you are clearly using for males to be gender inclusive unless you accept the fact that it's the same as using MEN for a group of people of either gender or female only. Don't tell me people who use "You Guys" don't know what they are saying, as I hear many people dropping the YOU and just saying GUYS! to get people's attention..and guess what..people who actually THINK and give a damn about language and are not brainwashed to thinking something black is really white, they have every right to comment and ignore people who use this type of logic. BTW for those who can't think of anything other than "You Guys" try "You All", "Everyone" "You 2, 3, 4 (whatever number of people you are referring to", "You Folks", "Friends", "We"..and many more..Try using your brain and not being so lazy!

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