Gender-neutral "bro"

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Apparently this has happened:

This has already happened for many speakers with "guy", at least in phrases like "you guys".


  1. Cervantes said,

    September 26, 2020 @ 7:27 am

    Well, it's an intentional appropriation. The gender twist is the point.

  2. David Marjanović said,

    September 26, 2020 @ 9:11 am

    While gender-neutral guy as in that guy over there has reportedly happened, I don't think the users of the single-word 2pl pronoun you guys, note the historical spelling despite the initial stress, have guy in mind at all. Twelve years ago I witnessed a grad student address a room full of established professors that way, and nobody flinched; indeed, the student became a tenured professor soon after.

  3. Tim Leonard said,

    September 26, 2020 @ 10:03 am

    It's not just this song—it's a thing. Here's another example.

  4. Jerry Friedman said,

    September 26, 2020 @ 11:09 am

    I think I first noticed women being called "bro" something like twenty years ago. I remember the occasion when I first noticed a woman being addressed as "man" (by her much younger male employee). That was in 1993, give or take a year.

    I'm an occasional user of "you guys", and I think I stress the second word more often than the first.

  5. Bloix said,

    September 26, 2020 @ 12:20 pm

    Cervantes – right.
    "If you hold a sister down,
    it'll all come back around, so –
    Be a bro, know the girl code."

    So this isn't gender neutral – it's an oxymoron.

  6. Sophie MacDonald said,

    September 26, 2020 @ 12:58 pm

    I'm just a little older than the singers in this video (25, trans woman, native speaker of Canadian English; they are 21-22, from Quincy, Illinois). This song is having deliberate fun with the gendered language, but I have definitely heard female friends address each other, tongue-in-cheek, as "bro". I would describe my understanding of "bro", outside gender games like this, as "male friend who has one's back in a social context". This is the meaning of the "girl code", as well (i.e. what I think it codifies, informally, is girls' and young women's social common sense and loyalty to each other). The lyric "be a bro", when both the singer and the imagined listener are female, raises the question of what it means for the listener to be a bro, and the follow-up "know the girl code" answers this question: it means behaving with common-sense loyalty in the listener's relationships.

    Also, re "guys": I now use "youse" and "y'all" because a) people I know tend to be uncomfortable with the gendering of "guys", b) the community substitute "(you) folks" often, though not always, feels inauthentic to me, and c) I like bringing my rural upbringing into the university. (I grew up with "youse" used unironically in my community and tongue-in-cheek by my family; "y'all" isn't native for me but I now use it without thinking about it.) However, I don't feel especially misgendered if someone addresses a group I'm part of as "you guys", whereas there are forms of address that do make me feel misgendered. I used to say "guys", and notice the gendered origin and connotation of the word, in roughly the way I notice the military origin and connotation of "hold the fort" — sure, it's there if I want to think about it, but I don't think about it.

  7. Y said,

    September 26, 2020 @ 1:00 pm

    Gender-neutral "dude" has been around for a while, too.

    I vote for "bro" to disappear off the face of the earth. It is the moist of personal address.

    There's some pragmatic subtlety to gender-neutral "you guys" which I haven't quite figured out. At least on the internet it appears to be used ironically, signifying a usage by women aiming at forced camaraderie, like camp counselors addressing their charges.

  8. Counterbander said,

    September 26, 2020 @ 4:41 pm

    And gender-neutral "you" (on its own, plural) has been around for an even longer while. It meets Sophie's needs (a, b). Her rationale seems really to be based on (c).

  9. William Slade said,

    September 26, 2020 @ 6:18 pm

    Gendered words unhinged. Witnessed in person in Detroit, 1959: A 13-year-old girl approached another 13-year-old girl at the school bus stop and said, "Hi Debby! How's it hangin?"

  10. Cervantes said,

    September 26, 2020 @ 7:44 pm

    Bloix — I don't know if it's exactly an oxymoron, it's really an analogy. Men stick together, so do we. I think that's actually very clear.

  11. Cervantes said,

    September 26, 2020 @ 7:46 pm

    By the way, they're a really good act. The harmony is beautiful, the composition is very catchy and the words are interesting, and they are very charismatic. I think they're going places.

  12. Phillip Minden said,

    September 27, 2020 @ 3:48 am

    Where's my comment gone? (I think it was the first.)

  13. Dave said,

    September 27, 2020 @ 4:07 am

    How about biblical "bro"? (brother, ἀδελφός, ach, aho, etc.)

  14. Andreas Johansson said,

    September 27, 2020 @ 7:15 am

    Anything that makes "bro" more widespread has to be bad.

  15. Harry Campbell said,

    September 27, 2020 @ 8:57 am

    I don't think we can use the set phrase "you guys" as evidence for gender-neutral "guy". I've never heard things like "she's a lovely guy" or "these six guys are all women". "You guys" is also not the same use of "guy" as "these guys" which can be used of objects as well as males ("that's the wrong tool, you need one of these guys") but I'm sceptical about "these guys are all women".

    Really what the English language needs is something less soulless and administrative-sounding than "person", something monosyllabic and informal but not so "cool" that it can't be used by everyone. I feel "dude" has made better progress than "guy" towards being gender-neutral, but both are still too stylistically marked for universal use.

  16. mg said,

    September 27, 2020 @ 12:33 pm

    "You guys" being gender-neutral is at least 6 decades old. Growing up, it was the NYC equivalent of "y'all". Since English lost differentiated singular and plural second-person pronouns, regional variations of ways to fill that gap have occurred. Youse, yin, y'all, you guys, etc. all fill a necessary function. It's hard to try to drop "you guys" in my 60s and as a woman I've never had any negative reactions to it – it's part of my home dialect. Using "y'all" feels like I'm pretending to be southern.

  17. Harry Campbell said,

    September 27, 2020 @ 12:45 pm

    On gender-neutral "lads" as an Irish equivalent of "you guys":

  18. Sarah C said,

    September 27, 2020 @ 1:33 pm

    Yes! Bro bleaching is a real thing. I've been informally polling my classes at UC San Diego for the past decade or so, and the acceptability of vocative bro for women seems to have been increasing to the point of being fully acceptable now. Curious if there are regional differences. I'm sure there are stubborn age cohort differences… I feel about bro similarly to a senior colleague and surfer dude who once remarked that he starts a bit when hearing young women address each other as "dude." (I do this.)

    And very very curious to see what the next such will be. Candidates?

  19. Walter Underwood said,

    September 27, 2020 @ 4:45 pm

    In the summer of 1976, I had a summer job on Monument Circle in downtown Indianapolis. One lunch hour, I saw a group of pregnant women out shopping. They were all addressing each other as "you guys". So that's been a thing for 45 years or so.

    I'd never heard that growing up in Baton Rouge (moved in 1972), but then, we already had a second person plural pronoun with "y'all".

  20. K said,

    September 27, 2020 @ 6:12 pm

    Bro has come to have rather negative connotations to me. When, say a STEM area or workplace is unwelcoming to women, not because of overt discrimination but because of a certain kind of narrowly male dominated culture, one might say it is has too much of a bro culture.

  21. David Morris said,

    September 28, 2020 @ 5:52 am

    Next, young men will call each other 'sis'?

  22. Terry K. said,

    September 28, 2020 @ 9:38 am

    I have a friend who mentioned her daughter (pre-teen or young teen) calling her "bruh", which is presumably a variant of bro.

    My assumption is Sophie MacDonald's reason for using something other than "you" for a plural you is not within her a, b, or c, but rather something else: the fact that "you" is also the singular. Sometimes "you" works fine for the plural. And sometimes we want something specifically plural.

  23. Philip Taylor said,

    September 28, 2020 @ 9:55 am

    "sometimes we want something specifically plural" — yet that want is not universal. The majority of Britons, for example, manage perfectly well with just "you".

  24. J.W. Brewer said,

    September 28, 2020 @ 6:40 pm

    I'm pretty sure I've overheard my sixteen-year-old daughter using vocative "bro" to female friends in at least approximately the same way some American females a generation prior used (and still use) vocative "dude" to female friends. I now realize that I'm not entirely sure one way or another whether I've overheard my nineteen-year-old daughter do the same, and now that she's away at college it's harder to do fieldwork.

  25. Philip Taylor said,

    September 29, 2020 @ 2:29 am

    As a Briton, I can just about understand the implied semantics of vocative "bro", but the analogous semantics of vocative "dude" completely elude me. When an American addresses a fellow American as "dude" (and ignoring the sex of the protagonists), what is he or she seeking to convey ?

  26. Dave said,

    September 29, 2020 @ 4:31 am

    "Dude" can convey many things, depending upon tone and context.

  27. Philip Taylor said,

    September 29, 2020 @ 12:33 pm

    Thank you for that, Dave. I cannot say that I was able to infer anything meaningful from the "Zits" cartoon, but the following snippet does cast some useful light on the topic :

    [T]he data presented here confirm that dude is an address term that is used mostly by young men to address other young men; however, its use has expanded so that it is now used as a general address term for a group (same or mixed gender), and by and to women. Dude is developing into a discourse marker that need not identify an addressee, but more generally encodes the speaker’s stance to his or her current addressee(s). The term is used mainly in situations in which a speaker takes a stance of solidarity or camaraderie, but crucially in a nonchalant, not-too-enthusiastic manner. Dude indexes a stance of effortlessness (or laziness, depending on the perspective of the hearer), largely because of its origins in the “surfer” and “druggie” subcultures in which such stances are valued. The reason young men use this term is precisely that dude indexes this stance of cool solidarity. Such a stance is especially valuable for young men as they navigate cultural Discourses of young masculinity, which simultaneously demand masculine solidarity, strict heterosexuality, and non-conformity.

    Would it be fair, do you think, to suggest that vocative "dude" might be a modern variant of the somewhat older "man" ?

  28. iainl said,

    September 30, 2020 @ 5:32 pm

    as an older scot from Edinburgh who has never lived outside the UK, bro is not a word in my vocabulary – but the discussion reminds of a question which comes into my mind in this sort of discussion – are there words like this which were originally gendered female which are now or are becoming gender neutral? I cant bring any to mind, but I have no real expertise

  29. Philip Taylor said,

    October 1, 2020 @ 2:16 am

    Like Iainl, I cannot think of any such words, but whilst mentally searching for examples a related question came into my mind — if an Anglican priest marries two homosexual men, what phrase does he use where the more traditional service would have him say [I now pronounce you] "man and wife" ?

  30. DT said,

    October 7, 2020 @ 12:45 am

    Bros may come and go but the Dude abides.

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