Below follows Cristina Cumpanasoiu’s second blogpost:
Having originated in the U.S., the earliest instance of the noun guy in the sense of “man, fellow” according to the Oxford English Dictionary dates back to 1847 when Lord Chief Baron in Swell’s Night Guide said “I can’t tonight, for I am going to be seduced by a rich old Guy”. Since the nineteenth century the use of this simple word, more specifically its plural form guys, has developed to such extent its original meaning broadened but also came to be bleached, including women as referents as well.
I feel I should start by confessing that I don’t consider myself a feminist, but the word caught my attention when, in the beginning of their presentation, one of my fellow students greeted the audience by “Hi, guys!” although there were eight women and only three men in class. Nobody reacted to that and I doubt anyone would have expected a reaction. Why would they? Apparently, the vocative guys used for addressing groups of men, women or mixed ones, is spreading throughout British English as well. )
According to the rules found in The Cambridge Guide to English Usage, the user can to refer to both genders when using the plural: “The archetypal guy is male, but the plural guys can include both sexes, as often in the vocative form you guys.”(2004:237)
Now, this apparently simple, word can be used for instance to ask a group of female friends: “How are you, guys?” but never to compliment one female friend by saying: “Jennifer, you’re such a good looking guy!” I mean, nobody would think that if addressed as a “guy”, a girl would feel comfortable, to put it mildly.
In the same way, while everybody is used to addressing questions in the second person plural using guys, as in “How are you, guys?”, no one seems to use guy for the singular: “How are you, guy?”, even if the people involved are both men.
Now let’s stop for a moment and think what would have been our reaction if my fellow student instead of greeting the whole group with “Hi, guys!” would have said “Hi, girls!”. I bet some of us would have felt offended or at least amused … probably the guys, I mean, the men. So why is girls still gender-specific when guys is not? Is it because masculinity in general rejects any association with female-like features and as a result most of the generic words are male? Or is it because women are so keen in showing their equality to men? Whatever the answer may be, the vocative guys used for all gender, is nowadays creating controversy as it is spreading out to all the varieties of spoken English.
How about you? Have you ever stopped to wonder about you guys now being a new typeof plural pronoun in English or are you so used to hearing and saying it that now it is part of your daily speech routine?