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Hey Guys! What’s Up!

January 24, 2010

I’ve been thinking about language a lot lately. Mostly about the word “guys”.

I feel like “guys” is a really awkward word because it is sometimes gender-neutral and sometimes masculine.

Phrases with the word “guys”:

  • one of the guys
  • go hunting with the guys
  • you guys do that
  • a bunch of guys
  • nice guys finish last
  • old guy
  • etc.

It totally reinforces the notion that neutral=male which irritates me. But, it’s so embedded in our language that its a hard word to stop using.

One of my professors has decided to change the culture at my college to say “first years” instead of “freshmen” for the same reason. At first, it was a hard transition to make because I’m so ingrained to say freshmen. But, since I was getting policed an hour a week, it was staying at the forefront of my mind and now it feels really natural. The problem with “guys” is that it doesn’t have an easy substitute.

When I was in high school, I was much more involved in LGBT activism and felt very strongly about the power of language to make people invisible. I insisted that my teachers  use words like significant other to avoid heterocentric language. You would be surprised how often it comes up.

Earlier this year, we had a speaker come to give an ethics talk to the senior class. At one point, he wanted to make a point about white lies so he asked all the men in the room to raise their hands (explaining that the women in the room would be entertained by this exercise) and then asked them to put down their hands if they had ever been dumped by a girl. Only one student had his hand left up. The speaker went up to him and shook his hand, congratulating him for his success with women. Everyone in the room bursts out laughing. That student was gay. I think he’s only been on one date with a girl and that was because she won it in an auction.

The speaker continues to embarrass himself by telling a long story about this student’s hypothetical date getting ready to go to prom or whatever (the whole room is laughing loudly the whole time – they eventually stopped because his story was really long). Then, the punchline comes, “So she walks down the stairs wearing a potato sack. This is literally the ugliest, most shapeless dress you have ever seen. She asks you ‘how do I look?’ What do you say?” The student shrugs and responds, “I don’t know”.

This man’s point was totally lost because of his absurdly heterocentric perspective. At the end, I went up to him and commented that I am gay and felt really uncomfortable by that whole exchange.

I feel like the LGBT stuff is so much more straight-forward and obvious than gendered language. Gendered language is so insidious – it’s hard to avoid. But, every little bit counts.

edit: It turns out I mixed up the story. He was asking about people getting rejected – so the last man standing was rejected 100% of the time. Whatever, you still get the point. I was close.

5 Comments leave one →
  1. January 25, 2010 09:02

    As much as I can understand right now, I think you’re right!

  2. January 31, 2010 14:37

    I’m always having trouble because I try to say things like “your guys’s house” which is just terrible English. I’d be happy if I had an alternative just to avoid that!

  3. April 6, 2010 12:26

    In Danish, there is only one word for boyfriend/girlfriend/significant other, which I like 🙂

    I don’t like s/o because it sounds so technical!

  4. ______ ____ permalink
    June 15, 2012 22:31

    I have a word for y’all: Newbies.

  5. ______ ____ permalink
    June 15, 2012 22:34

    Newbies for first year students in High School and College.

    Newbie Year.

    Completely gender neutral.

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