This guy’s the limit

Erin Palette talks about guys, and she means to include herself:

One guy is always male. (Which isn’t surprising, since Guy has been a man’s name for over a thousand years.) Therefore it follows that if someone says “It’s a guy thing” or “Guys’ night out” you know with 100% certainty that said guys are male.

But I have seen a woman address a group made up entirely of women with “Hi guys!” in which case those guys are now 100% female. However, even though a group of women can be called “guys”, I have never seen that group subdivided such that one woman would be a “guy”, regardless of how logical that might be.

This isn’t exactly egalitarian: except in very specific circumstances, groups of men are not referred to as “girls.” Still, it’s an interesting evolution of the language:

Many women feel that the word “mankind” is sexist when used to refer to all humanity, but I have yet to see any woman seriously object to “guys” even when used in nearly the same way.

I don’t really have a point to this other than Huh. A distinctly gendered noun has become a gender-neutral collective through cultural drift.

Now I wonder what the non-binary among us would think about this.


  1. McGehee »

    29 January 2015 · 2:32 pm

    I’m willing to sign on to any movement that seeks to revive “man” as a generic word for the species Homo sapiens and “men” for its indeterminately-numbered members regardless of sex.

    I’m also willing to sign on to any movement that seeks to horsewhip all those who use “gender” in any context other than linguistics.

  2. fillyjonk »

    29 January 2015 · 3:19 pm

    My mother, who is of the so-called Silent Generation, regularly bemoans this usage. (I guess she prefers “ladies and gentlemen,” or similar?)

    I am not bothered by “man” as a general term for “humans,” and I am a woman. I’m a lot more bothered when older texts are updated to be more “inclusive” – there are some hymns that have been made (IMHO) horribly clunky in an attempt to make them seem more “friendly” to women. There’s really no way you can rewrite Whittier’s lovely, “Dear Lord and Savior of Mankind” and not make it sound diminished and horrible.

    My graduate school used to have “And gladly would he learn and gladly teach” as its motto (translated from Chaucer). In recent years, they decided to make it more “inclusive,” so it’s now “Gladly we learn and teach,” which sounds straight out of Romper Room to me.

  3. fillyjonk »

    29 January 2015 · 3:21 pm

    Annnnd, it’s “Dear Lord and FATHER of Mankind.” Derp.

  4. Charles Pergiel »

    30 January 2015 · 9:08 am

    I had a spirited discussion with my girlfriend about this when she referred to a group of girls/women as ‘guys’. That was 40 years ago, so it’s not a new issue.

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