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

MattiasNYC

Senior Member
Swedish
Can you in all honesty say that there is no word that someone might call you that would NOT be offensive to you? If that's true, then I believe you are in a very small minority.

As I just wrote (after your post) obviously some words carry a specific and negative meaning. If you're Jewish and I call you the 'k-word' then obviously that's a problem, because the word has an obviously strongly negative meaning. "Guys" does not. There's close to zero ambiguity when using the 'k-word' whereas "Hey guys..."

I mean, take the aforementioned "'How you guys doing?'" and replace "guys" with the racist slur I mentioned. Not only is that not in the same ballpark, it's not even the same game.
 
  • london calling

    Senior Member
    UK English
    My wife objects pretty strongly. She doesn't like being addressed casually by somebody 50 years younger than she is, and doesn't like being called a man.
    My parents (aged 90+) object strongly too. To their mind it's rude if a server comes up and asks "What can I get you guys?" (cfr Keith's post), even though they realise that it isn't meant to be rude and that very probably that's what they've been taught to say.
     

    Loob

    Senior Member
    English UK
    Mattias, are you saying that questions about "acceptability" should be excluded from the forum?
     
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    Tegs

    Mód ar líne
    English (Ireland)
    I don't have any issue with "hey guys!" on the forum. It doesn't bother me to be addressed like that in informal types of restaurants in the US either (it would be a bit jarring in a fine dining establishment). I'd find it weirdly American if a server addressed me that way here but they generally just say "Good evening, what would you like to order?" with no label of any sort. On the other side of the formality scale, I did find the excessive use of "Ma'am" in the south of the US quite peculiar. But I understand that's normal there. It made me feel like I was being quite rude myself not using Sir/Ma'am in every sentence.

    But back to the forum, internet forums are usually informal environments, and most of the time, nobody has any idea what age anybody else is. So it doesn't surprise me that people who may be influenced by American culture, films and TV series address an unknown group of people with "hey guys". I think it's a bit harsh to tell them they're being rude.

    But then, I also think it's harsh to say "gonna" is a sign that you're uneducated, and yet plenty of people here are happy to make such statements. But that's another can of worms for another day :D
     

    Roxxxannne

    Senior Member
    American English (New England and NYC)
    I just want to say that 'guys' is not a universal term of address for old people in restaurants in the US. I was at a restaurant yesterday and the server addressed my female companion and me (we both have gray hair and look old enough to be his grandmothers) as 'ladies.' I was only mildly offended at being called something more appropriate for my (deceased) mother.
    Of course I did have reasonably nice clothes on -- not my usual jeans.
    :)
     

    Tegs

    Mód ar líne
    English (Ireland)
    I was at a restaurant yesterday and the server addressed my female companion and me (we both have gray hair and look old enough to be his grandmothers) as 'ladies.' I was only mildly offended at being called something more appropriate for my (deceased) mother.
    Interesting. What would you consider appropriate for your age? I genuinely wouldn't know (before your post I would have assumed ladies to be fine). I'm perfectly happy with "ladies" - that's how I would address a group of friends who are female (30s +). I'd resent being greeted with "hi girls" by anyone who wasn't a friend (girls are 3-18 and what we were often addressed as in school).
     

    Roxxxannne

    Senior Member
    American English (New England and NYC)
    I'm sorry, I thought the smiley face would indicate that I wasn't entirely serious. I wasn't really irritated. In the future I will try to remember to put smiley faces before and after my attempts at facetiousness.
     

    Andygc

    Senior Member
    British English
    I think the posters who have said "It doesn't offend me" and who seem to want to relate the topic to world events have rather missed the point. There are many native English speakers who find "guys" an objectionable form of address when it comes from strangers. This forum is intended to help people who are learning English. It seems to me to be wholly appropriate to tell learners that this objection exists. That some people don't object is irrelevant.
     

    DonnyB

    Sixties Mod
    English UK Southern Standard English
    I think the posters who have said "It doesn't offend me" and who seem to want to relate the topic to world events have rather missed the point. There are many native English speakers who find "guys" an objectionable form of address when it comes from strangers. This forum is intended to help people who are learning English. It seems to me to be wholly appropriate to tell learners that this objection exists. That some people don't object is irrelevant.
    I'm sorry, but it seems to me that it's you who's rather missed the point of this thread.

    The starting-point of the thread, was the general acceptability of the word "guys". Various members have indicated that they do or don't mind it in various situations, so learners and everyone else will be able to see from reading through it that objections obviously exist.

    It's well outside the scope of this thread, and of our forum as a whole, to try and conduct an assessment of how many or what proportion of people do or don't mind it, but I submit that the fact that some people don't mind or don't care either way is a relevant consideration.
     

    DonnyB

    Sixties Mod
    English UK Southern Standard English
    Perhaps you failed to read my post.

    Like this

    No, I did read your post, but the one you appear to have had in mind when you wrote it is only one of over a hundred submitted by various members and I'm afraid I don't see that as in any way invalidating what I said in reply to you. Sorry.
     

    MattiasNYC

    Senior Member
    Swedish
    I think the posters who have said "It doesn't offend me" and who seem to want to relate the topic to world events have rather missed the point. There are many native English speakers who find "guys" an objectionable form of address when it comes from strangers. This forum is intended to help people who are learning English. It seems to me to be wholly appropriate to tell learners that this objection exists. That some people don't object is irrelevant.

    But is there any word that isn't objectionable to someone? I'm asking this because I understand the above perfectly well, but it almost seems to me that a poll function in the forum would be more appropriate then. Just ask "Is this an offensive or objectionable word in the following context" and follow with a 'yes' 'no' option in the poll. Then just look at the results. That's the answer to any person who wishes to learn the language.

    If that doesn't suffice then it implies that for some reason we need to justify why it's offensive. But at that point, why would we not also want to know why some people don't find it offensive? Surely it is of equal linguistic and societal value to know both reasons, no?

    We're just a slice of society here of course, but I bet that if you actually polled a million people in NYC and a million in London for example the 'yes' option would reach near 100% for all options. In other words for this particular situation - say a waiter addressing people at a table - you're always going to find someone who finds the word inappropriate, objectionable or offensive.

    guys/dudes = nope, we're men, not "guys", say the men.
    guys/dudes = nope, we're not men, say the women/girls/they.
    ladies = nope, that's for my mother, not me.
    girls = I'm not a child.
    boy = I'm not a child.
    brother/sister = I'm not identifying along gender binary lines / I'm not related to you.
    sir/mam = I don't take myself that seriously.

    And so on. I'm being serious - there's very likely someone somewhere who will be offended by some word that's generally benign.

    Yes, we can all note that we're sensitive to one word or another, but if we're going to state our reasons for it then it seems entirely appropriate that those of us who disagree are allowed to do that and state our reasons as well.

    PS: I suppose the short version is that the value of stating that one doesn't object and providing a reason why is a) telling people it's not a universally considered offense and b) that in some cases "It's not me, it's you" applies.
     

    Packard

    Senior Member
    USA, English
    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"?
    When I leave the local coffee shop (where I know all the staff and the staff all know me), I always say, "So long guys." That despite the fact at any given time the staff might, in fact, be all female.

    And they all respond by saying, "So long, Packard."

    I think this is fine.
     

    Yankee_inCA

    Senior Member
    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?
    A guy is a bloke.
     

    Yankee_inCA

    Senior Member
    If you see a bunch of girls, do you say 'How you guys doing?' is that correct? Or should you say '(what are you) "girls" (doing)? '? Thank You
    This is a major problem in English. There is no second-person plural (formerly "ye"). This is non-trivial when it’s important to understand who you are including when you say "you." It’s awkward for everyone. In casual speech for all genders it’s “you lot” (Br.Eng) "you guys" (Northern N. America) or "y'all" (Southern N. America). If it’s any help it gets absurd from here. You hear, for example, "Is that you guys's new car?"

    If you see a cure on the horizon, let us know! :)
     

    Roxxxannne

    Senior Member
    American English (New England and NYC)
    If you see a bunch of girls, do you say 'How you guys doing?' is that correct? Or should you say '(what are you) "girls" (doing)? '? Thank You
    I'd say "How're you all doing?" (with two barely distinguishable syllables, rather than the one-syllable 'yall') if I don't know them well and if they are girls or adult women.
     

    yolocoloco

    New Member
    English-USA
    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?
    In the US South, in informal speech, a "guy" can be of any age. When I moved to Wisconsin for grad school in 1961, I was shocked, shocked, to hear female students use "you guys" to address a group of females, just as in the South we say "you all," pronounced y'all.
     

    kalamazoo

    Senior Member
    US, English
    I'm from California and try to avoid saying 'you guys' to an all female group of people but will use it for a mixed male-female group. I will use 'guy' for a man of any age, depending on the circumstances (e.g. I would say "I saw a guy walking down the street wearing a bright yellow suit yesterday" or "some guy driving a Mercedes cut me off in traffic this morning" no matter how old the man in question was. When I first went to the UK in the early 1960s, the word 'guy' wasn't really used in this sense and I struggled to avoid using it when talking to British people.
     

    AmericanAbroad

    Member
    American 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?
    The use of the term guy differs depending on whether it is singular or plural. The plural form "guys" is used in colloquial American English to refer to any group of people, whether the group be all male, all female, or mixed. "Hey you guys, who wants pizza" can be said to any mixed group, or to a group of males or a group of females. (I have, however, seen some "woke" advocates arguing strenuously that calling a group of females "guys" is a hateful example of patriarchy and male supremacy, but that is not yet a majority opinion.) In the singular form, though, "guy" would only be used to refer to a male, e-g., "He's such a nice guy." Or, a girl talking to a friend could say, "I met this guy last night, he was really...[adjective]." You would never refer to a woman as "a nice guy", or as a guy at all. Back in the days, "guy" for a male used to be interchangeable with "gal" for a female, in the singular. And, in those days, you would not refer to a group of women as "guys", but rather as "gals". However, I have the impression that "gal" and "gals" started going out the window already in the 1970s under the criticism of feminists who found the term somehow demeaning. (They never explained how "gal" could be any more or less demeaning than "guy" but, whatever...). Finally, no, there is no particular age limits on the use of the word guy. You can say, "we were out on the links the other day and we got stuck behind this group of old guys who took forever." You can say, "that old guy is nuts, probably has dementia or something the way he's babbling..." Etc. And a bunch of elderly women can be having a bridge game and one of them asks, "hey, you guys, i'm hungry, should we order a pizza?"
     

    Wordy McWordface

    Senior Member
    English - SSBE Standard British
    And a bunch of elderly women can be having a bridge game and one of them asks, "hey, you guys, i'm hungry, should we order a pizza?"

    As London Calling points out, that depends entirely on what country you're in. I can assure you that bunches of elderly women certainly do not address each other in that manner in this part of the world.
     

    Roxxxannne

    Senior Member
    American English (New England and NYC)
    There are definitely many situations, and I'm speaking only about the US, where it is perfectly fine to call a mixed group of men and women or a group of women 'guys.' Women (some women, not all women) have been calling each other 'guys' in the US for decades. But, although it's fine to offer anthropological-type testimony about the use of 'guys,' it's not a good idea for English learners to get the idea that it's fine to call a group of women 'guys' in any situation, even in the US. All sorts of nuanced issues pertaining to age, status, and intimacy exist.
     
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    Tegs

    Mód ar líne
    English (Ireland)
    Oh yes, I know, but it's completely logical that a person with more knowledge of American English would confine their remarks to how a word is used in their neck of the woods.
     

    AmericanAbroad

    Member
    American English
    That depends entirely on which country you're in, AA, and the age group. Please see the posts above.
    Well, yes, I would not assume that people in other countries necessarily use "colloquial American English". But I do usually assume that, before commenting, people READ posts and notice when someone specifically references that particular context for describing the usage of a word. It is a little redundant to chime in and say, well, we don't speak colloquial American English in London. Who said they did?
     

    DonnyB

    Sixties Mod
    English UK Southern Standard English
    Yes, but given the poster wanted an exact definition they should have mentioned that it is different in BE.
    I think part of the trouble here is that there's no such thing as a "precise/exact definition". Different people clearly have different (and very subjective) reactions to being addressed as "guys", and the extent to which they would or wouldn't use it, and that cuts deeper than just being an AE/BE difference or even an age difference, although both those, from what people have been saying, come into play.
     
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