Guy, guys (age/sex/acceptability of?)

Discussion in 'English Only' started by -jul1a-, Sep 11, 2005.

  1. -jul1a- New Member

    Canada, English
    Hi. I am looking for a precise definition of the word "guy." I know it is used for males. But is there a certain age group for which it is normally used? I've heard of it being used for males of all ages, but my impression is it's used more to describe either men or young males that we can call adolescents (in other words, males from the age of 12 or 13 roughly), than for people younger than that, in other words, children. Am I right?
  2. cuchuflete

    cuchuflete Senior Member

    Maine, EEUU
    Hello Jul1a,
    Welcome to the forums.

    We have had other discussions about this word, and have established that in the US it it used by both males and females to refer to both males and females! I know of no rule or tendency regarding age groups. I can just say from personal experience that it's often used to address young children, as when a soccer coach calls a team of 6 year olds.

  3. Brioche

    Brioche Senior Member

    Australia English
    I think that 'a guy' (singular) still means a male.

    "Who's that new guy she's with?" would mean male person.

    The phrase "It's a guy thing" refers to something about males.
  4. hamishh

    hamishh Member

    Sydney, Australia
    Australia English
    Hi Jul1a,

    I doubt you'll find a precise definition... Your question piqued my interest, so I have had a think and a search...

    The New Oxford is less than helpful:

    guy NOUN 1. informal
    a man: he's a nice guy.

    My answer to your question would be that in current general usage the lower age limit for calling any one man a guy is about the mid-teens, but that it depends largely on the age of the speaker: At age twenty-four I would rarely call any one male under the age of 17 a guy, and I would be unlikely to use the word for a man over the age of, say, 40. The appropriate age given by a given speaker would, I imagine, increase with the speaker's age.

    Context, context, context...

    As chuchuflette has suggested, the case of the plural form guys is more complicated. If if in 1966 Wodehouse used it as an antonym of dolls,

    Wodehouse Plum Pie i. 32 All the other places..had been full of guys and dolls standing bumper to bumper. (OED online)

    I heard only yesterday a young Australian twentysomething woman calling out to her exclusively female group of friends:

    2005 Australian Girl on Street Come on guys, lets blow this popsicle stand! (Source: unreliable.)

    This plural usage need not be age- or gender-specific.

    Just to make things more complicated, take one of Jonathan Green's five definitions: guy was used in Australia in the early 20th century to mean "a fool"

    guy n.3 1. [1910s+] (Aus) a fool. (Jonathan Green, Cassell's dictionary of Slang)

    and in the U.S. in the 1920s, a woman!

    guy n.2 2. [1920s+] (US) a woman.
    (Jonathan Green, Cassell's dictionary of Slang)

    Sorry, not very precise...[​IMG]

  5. Brioche

    Brioche Senior Member

    Australia English
    "Guy" as an antonym for "Doll" dates from before 1966

    There's the musical "Guys and Dolls", first staged in 1950, so it's probably older than that.
    In the show guys means men.

    When you meet a gent paying all kinds of rent
    for a flat that could flatten the Taj Mahal.
    Call it sad, call it funny. But it's better than even money.
    That the guy's only doing it for some doll!
  6. GenJen54

    GenJen54 Senior Member

    Downright Pleasant, USA
    USA - English
    Hi Julia,

    Welcome to the forums! You might take a look at this thread, which should give you most specific instances of how it is used in everyday language. I would say its use in AE is broader than in BE.

    In short, the following could apply:

    small boy - singular "Hey, little guy, want to go play some ball?"
    young man/ man - singular: "She went out with a really cute guy last night."
    group of young boys/men - plural - "Hey, Guys"
    mixed-gendered group of young people "Hey, Guys"

    Where I personally take umbrage is when I am with a group of females only and someone approaches us and greets us with a "Hey, guys." If we were teenagers, I could probably let it go, but women of a certain age should not be referred to as "guy."
    Last edited by a moderator: Jun 27, 2014
  7. duder Senior Member

    I'm not sure if I really follow these "rules" all the time, but I think that my usage of "guy" goes something like this:

    singular: applicable to males a few years my junior and onward. Often modified with adjectives - an older guy, a young guy, a guy my age. Males that are more than a few years younger are usually kids or something else. Guy is considerably less formal to me than man (except when addressing someone directly, in which case the latter is more common), and also has a more informal cousin, dude.

    plural: Informally can refer to a group of males with the same caveats as above, but when addressing people directly (e.g. Hey guys) they would generally have to be near my own age or younger. I would expect a lot of people to use guys to refer to groups of mixed gender, but normally don't do it myself. Gender neutral alternatives include you all, everyone, and others. More formal alternatives might be gents, fellows, or men. I don't hear or use dudes as much as the singular form.
  8. -jul1a- New Member

    Canada, English
    I will give some instances in which I have heard the word "guy" being used. I often hear people at school and on TV shows, especially teenagers, say "guy" as the opposite of "girl" as an alternative to the word "boy", as in "the girls and the guys" or "girl and guy friends". I also see that type of thing on web sites, in books and in magazines for teens, where they use the word "guys" and the word "girls" to specify teenagers of both genders. When they talk about children, they tend to use the words "boys" and "girls".

    I will give some more examples:

    "Is that a guy or a girl?"
    "Guys are better at this than girls."
    "There are (this many) guys and (this many) girls in our class."
    So, is it mainly teenagers that would say things like these, more than young children, and is it mostly teenage boys that would consider themselves guys? Does the lower age limit for calling a male person a guy also depend on the gender of the speaker as well as their age?
  9. JLanguage Senior Member

    Georgia, US
    USA: American English, Learning Hebrew and Spanish
    Anyone more than a year or two older than I am is a guy, anyone who's not is a kid. Guy could refer to someone very old as well. Ex. "
    This old guy came up to me and asked me how I was doing. He seemed kind of creepy so I told him to 'get the hell away from me'."
  10. MarcB Senior Member

    US English
    As the many posts show it varies from region to region and age group. during different periods of time/history as well. I would say for mostpeople alive today it is definetly for males and plural includes both males and females but often it is used in singular for females.
  11. GenJen54

    GenJen54 Senior Member

    Downright Pleasant, USA
    USA - English
    No offense, Marc, as this may be part of yours or other generation's usage, but I have been, and will be continue to be offended when someone calls me "guy." Despite what dictionaries may cite as a definition, the last time I checked, I was not a guy.

    If called this in mixed plural company, such as "Hey, guys," I have no problem.
  12. TrentinaNE Senior Member

    English (American)
    My skin also crawls when waitstaff at casual-but-not-cheap restaurants ask my husband and me "Are you guys ready to order?" Said waitstaff are usually young enough to be our children. Really, is it so difficult to say "May I take your order now?" or to substitute "you folks" or just "you" for "you guys"?
  13. Can that word refer to females too? I've always thought that it can only refer to males but I've heard a couple of times actors in movies say e.g. What's up guys? when there are girls around. How is it then?
  14. GenJen54

    GenJen54 Senior Member

    Downright Pleasant, USA
    USA - English
    HERE is another thread where we've recently discussed this. It's a personal matter, really.

    In short however:

    group of all males = guys
    mixed group of males/females= guys
    group of all females = guys (?) :confused:

    I personally don't refer to myself as a guy and don't appreciate it if and when in a restaurant sitting with a group of all female friends a waiter or waitress approaches my table with a cheery "Hey, guys....." BLEGGCH!
  15. tonch Senior Member

    English, Sydney - Australia
    Yeah it's probably a preference thing.

    I'm sure i say things like "What do you guys think?" to groups of female or female/male friends.
  16. tZeD New Member

    Canada (English)
    In areas like Toronto, though, where "you guys" is the normal 2nd person plural pronoun, it doesn't refer to any gender specifically. So I would certainly use it (in casual speech) if I'm talking to a group of females.

    As a noun, though, I think it's male, even when it's not specifically contrasted with a female term like girl. If somone said to me, "This guy came up to me and was like...," I would automatically interpret that as a male (around 16 and older though), and "the guys are coming over," I think, rules out a mixed group. Although, as a secondary meaning, it refers to the kind of friends that are stereotypical guys (the ones you get together with to go down to the pub and watch a hockey game e.g.) and this implies being male but not necessarily, since you can say things like "she's one of the guys." That, I think, covers the way the word is used around me.
  17. GiggLiden

    GiggLiden Senior Member

    It's okay, although I find it a little strange. But what I find even stranger ... is someone who says ...

    "Hi, guys ..."

    to three WOMEN !!!

    :) :)
  18. XepC Member

    near Barcelona
    Spain. Spanish and Catalan
    ... as seen on TV so many times, by the way
  19. fenixpollo

    fenixpollo Mod, I say, Moderator

    American English
    Here's a thread (click) about "you guys." Basically, we native English-speakers are confused because the second person pronoun is the same for singular and plural -- "you."

    So... how do you distinguish between singular and plural when you address people?

    In the Southern U.S., many people use y'all (you all), while on the coasts it's more often you guys (or youse guys). Also in use are people, peeps, folks, dudes and everybody.

    It's perfectly natural for me to refer to a group of 3+ women as "guys."

    Hey, guys, what's up? What does everybody want to eat today?

    Cheers, all. :)
  20. GiggLiden

    GiggLiden Senior Member



    the third person pronoun is the same for singular and plural ???
    They look quite different to ME!
    :) :) :)

  21. Brioche

    Brioche Senior Member

    Australia English
    Would you have done that when you were 25? When you were 15?

    If someone said "She's going out with a new guy" could "guy" mean a woman?

    If a woman says "Look at those hot guys over there!", could it mean a group of women?
  22. fenixpollo

    fenixpollo Mod, I say, Moderator

    American English
    Yes. I was always more closely tuned into California culture than any other, although I never used "dude" too heavily, except as an exclamation of amazement.

    When I lived in Texas, I occasionally said "y'all" not because I like it, but just to avoid funny looks.

    For me, you are all just "guys."

    See you guys later.
  23. nd23 Member

    English - US
    I agree with fenixpollo. At least in California "you guys" has become in many ways the plural form of "you", kind of like the Spanish "ustedes/vosotros". I personally use it all the time with both men and women. It's an entirely natural verbal construction.
  24. GenJen54

    GenJen54 Senior Member

    Downright Pleasant, USA
    USA - English
    HERE's yet another thread on the subject.

    I understand the tendancy to do this towards women of your same age group, or younger. But, would you greet ladies of your mother's age in the same manner? What about ladies of your grandmother's age? Do they command the same casual designate?

    Would "Hi ladies," not be just as easy to say in such a situation? Or, how about "Hey, folks" (although folks is usually used for mixed company.)

    I'm not judging, just trying to figure out where the proverbial line is drawn, if at all.
  25. fenixpollo

    fenixpollo Mod, I say, Moderator

    American English
    It would depend on the relationship... I would call a group of my older female coworkers "guys", but not my mother's friends. I often use "ladies" if I want to sound more formal or if "guys" is not appropriate. I don't use "folks" except to refer to someone's parents... it just doesn't sound "cool" for some reason.
  26. HistofEng Senior Member

    New York
    USA Eng, Haitian-Creole

    I'm from New York and Miami originally and I follow fenixpollo's usage of "guys" exactly, too!!!
  27. hohodicestu

    hohodicestu Senior Member

    Mexico - Spanish
    Hi everyone,

    can someone please tell me if it is appropriate to use "guys" among girls?

    Thanks :)
  28. ArtemisTwo Member

    U.S. English
    Informally, it's a fairly common usage, especially among younger people, but a lot of older people find it annoying and I wouldn't suggest you use it in any kind of formal context (at work, for example, or in addressing someone much older or higher status than you).
  29. GenJen54

    GenJen54 Senior Member

    Downright Pleasant, USA
    USA - English
    Here are a few threads on the subject where we have already discussed the subject at length. It depends on who you are asking, and certainly on who you are talking to:

    Thread ONE

    Thread TWO.

    In short, I agree more or less with what Artemis says.

    If someone were to address me (a female) singularly as "Hey guy," I would be offended.

    If someone were to address me in a group of female friends as "hey guys," I would be mildly annoyed.

    If someone were to address me in a group of mixed company as "hey guys," I would not bat an eye.

    If someone were to address my mother, grandmother or any group of female people older than myself as "hey guys," I would give them a good verbal lashing right then and there.

    Guys is certainly colloquial, and should not be used in any formal context, or in polite company.
  30. hohodicestu

    hohodicestu Senior Member

    Mexico - Spanish
    Artemistwo - Thank you

    It helps a lot. I used it once with the people at work and they gave me a weird look.
  31. river Senior Member

    U.S. English
    "'Nowadays, very few speakers would consider 'you guys' male only,' said Sean McLennan, a doctoral student in linguistics at Indiana University. He has written an academic paper on the gender uses of "guy," "guys" and "you guys" and finds evidence that even "guy" is edging toward gender neutrality."
  32. GenJen54

    GenJen54 Senior Member

    Downright Pleasant, USA
    USA - English
    Thus retorts Miss Manners: "The language of respect is fading out of use everywhere. ... You guys have a problem with this?"

    The next time you and your male friends/colleagues are grouped and someone comes up to say "hey gals," then tell me how it feels.

    Interesting article, by the way. I personally like the influence of ya'll. Glad to know it might be creeping northward. At least that is wholly neutral.
  33. cj427

    cj427 Senior Member

    Oh, I hate being greeted with "Hey gals!" It feels like we're about to have a conversation about "that not-so-fresh feeling".

    "Dudes" is my personal favorite. I would say that "dude" is gender-neutral.
  34. GenJen54

    GenJen54 Senior Member

    Downright Pleasant, USA
    USA - English
    Dudes reminds me of the pot-toking, Vans-wearing hipsters from the 1980s (Fast Times at Ridgemont High, Bill and Ted's Excellent Adventure) I went to high school with.

    It's even more casual than "guys" to my ear.

    I mean, would you really go up to your grandmother and a group of her lady friends and greet them with a rousing "Hey dudes"?

    I am going to conjecture that we are experiencing a great divide of:

    a. geography
    b. generation

    I am from an area very near the South where "traditional" niceties are still a part of everyday speech. I am also probably about twenty years older than you, which is why we experience these words differently.

    Welcome to the Forums, by the way!
  35. Hey guy? - Dosen't exist

    Hey guys - I've heard girls say this to each other in groups all the time and obviously in a mixed group it's perfectly fine. So yes you can use it!

    Ah now come on..............

    Only your stereotypical American skater would ever say "Hey Dudes" LOL.
  36. GenJen54

    GenJen54 Senior Member

    Downright Pleasant, USA
    USA - English
    This might be an AE/BE difference. I have heard "Hey guy" frequently. It's used in the same vein as "hey man."

    I'm sorry, I just find it rude. Color me old-fashioned, but I just find that women of a certain age should not be addressed as "guy" or "dude," and in these contexts I find their use to be disrespectful.

    Both words are perfectly appropriate - and yes! I do use "guy" - in more casual conversation among "younger" peers. (Perhaps "Generation X" and younger.)

    Please see my post # 8 for a further explanation of this.
  37. Must be. It sounds totally wrong to me. Hey Dude OK... but Hey Guy?
  38. DavyBCN Senior Member

    UK - English
    I blame it all on "Bill and Ted's Great Adventure"! BE has never been the same since we let that film into the country.:p
  39. southerngal Senior Member

    American English
    As a female, speaking for myself only, I don't mind guys at all, whether I'm in a mixed group or a group of females. As others have said, of course, it's very colloquial. However, the singular form guy would be very awkward and odd to me.

    My advice is if you aren't certain how it will be received, don't use it.
  40. mytwolangs Senior Member

    English United States
    Guys is more gender neutral, kind of like the french word "ils" when the group is mixed gender.
    If it is all women, than Ladies" would be better, but even then, you might get away with "guys"
  41. cj427

    cj427 Senior Member

    Dude may have started out in skater/surfer slang (actually, doesn't it originally come from cowboy slang? e.g. "dude ranches"), but it's pretty widely used on the west coast these days - especially by people under 30.

    I think you're right, GenJen - this is an generational/geographical divide. But I can't imagine getting by without the word "dude". It's so useful in so many other ways as well...
  42. nohablo Senior Member

    English - USA
    Hmmm...I remember a teacher in school who insisted that "men" was gender neutral because it included both men and women, as in "all men are created equal." Sorry, but I don't buy that, nor do I buy "ils" (or the Spanish "ellos") as gender neutral. They seem about as gender neutral as "men" -- that is, not at all! ;)
  43. foxfirebrand

    foxfirebrand Senior Member

    The Northern Rockies
    Southern AE greatly modified by a 1st-generation Scottish-American mother, and growing up abroad.
    I agree wholeheartedly!

    But I hope it can creep north without the apostrophe creeping one letter to the right like that.
  44. eac Senior Member

    USA, English
    As an address, I would say "guys" is generic enough to be used for female plural. (In informal contexts, of course.)

    Hey Sue and Mary, what are you guys up to?
    Come on, guys, let's get to our Girl Scout meeting.

    Neither of the above sentences sounds strange to me. Careful, though! If you're not using it as an address, but as a referent in discourse, it will indeed sound odd when applied to women.

    *Sue and Mary are great guys.
    *Some of the guys from the sorority came over last night.

    By the way, I wouldn't put much stock in Miss Manners's analogy. "Gal" sounds archaic today, but "guy" is still a very common word. They should not be considered parallel.
  45. Yôn Senior Member

    Okay, so in place of ellos what would you use to refer to a mixed group? Would you use ellos y ellas? If there are four men, and one woman, ellos y ella? Seems to complicate things too much by trying to redefine the language so it can fit to what you think is right. My point being that ellos is male AND gender neutral :) It's status as a masculine noun has NOTHING to do with sex.

    As for the guy thing. Perhaps man is falling out of use as gender neutral and guy is filling its place.

    If guy is gender neutral, then using hey gals as a counter example is no good, because gals (a word I hardly ever hear) is gender SPECIFIC!

    Now, I would use guys for a group of people my own age of any type, or anyone I was on a casual basis with. Girls use it too, so I don't think I'm far off in space doing it.

    Most likely, it is a generation thing. As for dude, I think it just sounds dumb... I'd only use it to refer to a male of "lower intelligence."

    When I walk into work, and my superiors say "Hey Jon"... whether they are male or female, I usually great the group with a "Howdy guys/y'all/folks," and I've yet to get any looks other than smiles :).

  46. maxiogee Banned

    My first contact with "guys" as anything other that a group of males wwas back in the early '70s when I took a boating holiday on the River Shannon. The vessel was an old Guinness' barge which had been restored and remodelled asnd now slept 10 guests and two crew. Among the guests were three American women (all teachers from California) and they regularly addressed the other two with "Hey, guys…" and "Do you guys…" I was confused by this but was informed that it was quite normal and proper in their milieu.

    Personally, I make a lot of use of "folks" when addressing mixed groups.
  47. southerngal Senior Member

    American English
    Eac, you've made an excellent point that never occurred to me. There's a huge difference between addressing a group of females: Hey guys, it's time to go vs referring to a group of females as guys. Thanks for pointing that out.
  48. river Senior Member

    U.S. English
    This caught my eye in the newspaper last week:

    "Inevitably referred to as "among the most beautiful actresses in Hollywood," Robin Wright Penn is also a good guy--imaginative, relaxed and, when she chooses, pretty funny." Parade: The Sunday Newspaper Magazine Dec. 3, 2006
  49. guy in that sense i think is for sure connected to "good" Like when they talk about good guys and bad guys, protagonists and antagonists. I've also heard "good fellow" when referring to a female. It does seem odd there nonetheless...
  50. maxiogee Banned

    (detouring off-topic for a moment)

    Protagonists/antagonists are not good/bad guys.

    A protagonist was merely the main character in a Greek drama, and an antagonist was someone who struggled against something.

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