GUYS.

I’m pretty sure that as far back as I can remember—certainly in my college days in the late ’60s—the plural guys has been used to address groups including women, or even (usually, I think, by women) groups exclusively composed of women. There is an interesting “Dear Abby” column today addressing the issue; it opens with the following letter from “Jacki in Wilbraham”:

I had to write regarding the letter from “Disgruntled in Lompoc, Calif.” (Dec. 28), whose pet peeve is waitstaff (in particular) referring to her and her lady friends as “guys.”
Well, 3,000 miles away, I, too, am sick to death of being called a guy. When it happens to me, I tell my server that “the last time I looked, I was NOT a guy!” Sometimes they get it — sometimes not.
I notice that on some of the TV shows I watch, even women refer to a group of people as “guys.” I hate it — and would ask you, with your worldwide influence, to bring the issue forward. We are NOT “guys,” we are “people” or “folks” or “ladies and gentlemen”! Or else, Merriam-Webster will have to change its definition of “guys.” Thanks for letting me vent.

The interesting thing is that “Abby” (Jeanne Phillips) does not simply agree, though she says she too “would prefer to have my femininity acknowledged rather than to be called a guy”—she actually looks in the dictionary, and lo and behold:

And, as to Merriam-Webster’s definition of a “guy,” — my 11th Edition says in black and white that “guy” can refer to “any person” when used colloquially. Frankly, I found it so surprising that I looked in the American Heritage College Dictionary to see if there was agreement, and it also states: “Informal (ital.): Persons of either sex.”

She then presents a selection of other letters on the topic, one agreeing with the original outrage (“My solution is to smile sweetly and ask, ‘Honey, do I LOOK like a guy to you? Because if I do, you need your eyes checked’”) but most either neutral or positive (“As I have told my ESL students, ‘guys’ is acceptable colloquial English”; “It’s not meant to be disrespectful. It’s a regional colloquialism”). It’s nice to see such an open-minded approach to usage on the part of one of the keepers of the flame of mainstream ideas of right and wrong. (Incidentally, my wife agrees that the use in question is perfectly OK.)

Comments

  1. I first heard it about 1968 too (about the same time I heard the positive construction “Any more, you can….”)
    Drugs! Fornication! Communism! Civilization as we know it!

  2. michael farris says:

    Do the dictionaries describe limits on this usage?
    For me it only works in the plural and only then vocatively. Otherwise it’s definitely assumed male.

  3. Reminds me of my being weirded out, a little, at a female Spanish friend using “hombre” vocatively to a female friend of hers.

  4. I’ve heard the word “dude” used in the same gender-neutral way as well, but only by younger speakers (I’m 29). I myself would never address a woman as “dude”. :)

  5. Oh, man (so to speak). I’m so ‘guilty’ of this one. “You guys” is the only plural 2nd person pronoun I have. Sometimes plain “you” just isn’t enough to emphasize inclusivity (like when speaking to one member of a group about an invitation that is meant for the whole gang) and since I don’t have it natively I feel like an impostor using “y’all.”

  6. The use of “dude” among young women seems to have made it to (American) TV.
    What about “mate,” like Lauren “Am I bovvered?” Cooper calls Liz? Is that common?

  7. We just had this conversation on a recent conference call. About half of the people on the call were from Georgia or Texas and the other half from the state of Washington. Someone from the southern group used the term y’all and we got into a big discussion about how nice it was to be able to use that term and not be stuck with “you guys”. We decided that y’all should be adopted nationwide to refer to any group of people regardless of sex.

  8. The OED also says people of either sex.
    For me, “guys” can only mean either sex when used as second person, when it’s used as third person it can only mean all male.

  9. Executed Today says:

    If only the keepers had been more open-minded about Catholics during the English Reformation, we might not have the word “guy” at all …
    At least nobody writes Dear Abby to complain that they’ve been accused of treason.

  10. This reminds me of a rant I once heard from a woman who hated the word “housewife” because she’s not married to a house. I guess some people can’t handle words that mean different things in different contexts.

  11. The problem with “y’all” is that it’s not necessarily plural. It can be a sort of polite singular, with “you” taking the “tu” familiar singular role.
    I’d like to see a comparative study of historical change in pronoun systems. FOr example, in Old French and Middle English, there was so much inconsistency in pronouns that at times you had to know the period and dialect to be sure of an interpretation. And IIRC, Brazilian had two different second-person systems, archaic in the interior and contemporary in the bulk of the country.
    My guess that the driving force in transformations of pronoun systems is changes in politeness. The disappearance of “thou” is a clear case.

  12. I would call a single woman “guy” or “dude” without any guilt at all, in the awareness that in some cases that would be a joke, or teasing, and that in other cases it would be unexceptional, except maybe because I’m too old to talk that way. Calling a woman “dude”, though, is super-informality, or super-familiarity.
    I once objected that the term “fellows” for PhD types was archaic and overly formal and should be replaced by “dudes”. I also proposed calling lady post-docs “babes”, but probably most of them would rather be called “dudes”.

  13. Executed Today says:

    I’m not Dr. Lebowski, man — I’m the dude, so that’s what you call me.

  14. I can’t find a transcript but Douglas Hofstadter discussed this exact thing really well in his lecture “Old Sexism in New Guise”. There’s a précis here.

  15. michael farris says:

    “The problem with “y’all” is that it’s not necessarily plural. It can be a sort of polite singular, with “you” taking the “tu” familiar singular role.”
    Got any citations for this theory?
    I’ve used yall as long as I can remember and it always has a plural reference. If I use it with one person it’s as a representative of a group.
    So if I’m talking to a single person:
    “When will you be back from vacation?” (referring just to the person I’m talking to)
    “When will yall be back from vacation?” (referring not only to the person I’m talking to but also to the person(s) they’ll be on vacation with).
    In this way it’s ust like Ihr in German (or vosotros or ustedes in Spanish since familiarity is a non-issue with yall).
    I cannot recall ever hearing a single ‘genuine’ use of yall as a singular (by genuine I mean by someone for whom it’s a natural part of their dialect).
    Also, I’ve come to the decision that I don’t like the apostrophe in yall and won’t write it anymore.

  16. janes'_kid says:

    Someone should do a study on persons who write to the “Dear Abby” sorts and complain about words in everyday use.
    Are they ADHD and acting on an impulse? Are they really seriously depressed and have nothing better to do? What gives?

  17. The problem with “y’all” is that it’s not necessarily plural. It can be a sort of polite singular, with “you” taking the “tu” familiar singular role.
    This is a slander that has often been debunked by Southerners but continues to muddy the waters of linguistic understanding. See here and here. Go thou and sin no more.

  18. For comparisons sake:
    In dutch, there is the noun ‘jongens’ (pl), which is frequently used in the same, vocative, manner and only occasionally frowned upon. It literally means ‘boys’. According to my dictionary (1984) it is used to address children of both sexes, but at least nowadays it used used colloquially amongst adults too.

  19. I’ve always viewed “you guys” as a New York/Northeast regionalism that has spread due to media influence.
    I grew up in central Ohio, where the working class dialect is strongly influenced by southerners who moved north in search of work. I grew up hearing “you all” or “y’all” to refer to a mixed-gender group. But during the ’70s, the children’s TV show Electric Company, which was produced in New York, popularized the phrase “Hey, you guys,” which was uttered at the beginning of every show. That was the first place I heard that usage, so I’ve always associated it with New York & New Yorkers.
    Maybe we could all pretend we’re from Pittsburgh and say “youse” or “yinz” in this context?

  20. Years ago, in a report of a discussion of whether it was “sexist” to refer to a group of people as “guys,” a defense of this use by a woman contained the delightful statement, “Even guys use ‘guys’ to refer to women.” Hey, I’m a lawyer–I love it when a word gets used with two different meanings in the same sentence!
    It is remarkably interesting that this development doesn’t include the singular.

  21. Steven Clancy says:

    A few points:
    1) Check out the article for the details:
    Clancy, Steven J. 1999. “The Ascent of guy”, American Speech 74(3):282-97. If you have university access to journals, you can get this online or this link may or may not work:
    http://muse.jhu.edu/demo/american_speech/v074/74.3clancy.html
    This paper discusses all the points that have been raised in these comments with interesting examples to boot.
    2) I’m mostly interested in guy as a generic noun, not so much as a 2nd plural pronoun as I’m much more of a y’all fan. And I can at least attest that when I was in college in Texas, y’all was the first word the non-southern students picked up on fast. I’m a native speaker of y’all, but my conformation to “higher standards” :) finds me using you guys naturally and y’all only deliberately these days. Y’all is a much better word though!
    3) singular y’all sounds very weird to me, but it does exist, although I think it is more of a true American South feature, certainly not a Texas feature. But you do find sg. y’all vs. pl. all y’all (no kidding!)
    4) there is a grand old tradition in English of our plural pronouns taking on singular reference. Sg. thou gave way to pl. you in both sg. and pl. and the rise of y’all and you guys and other such pl. replacement forms, but you can also find the editorial or royal we in the sg. and perhaps more importantly the natural and sure to win out solution to the demise of generic sg. he in the use of singular they. I would agree that politeness is one such strategy, plural seems to be a common marker of formality (cf. French, Russian, and other European languages with the sg./pl informal/formal you distinction, but also forms of address in Hindi of various sorts using plural for polite singular reference), but politeness is only one motivation, another is surely the formation of generics.
    5) at least as interesting as the rise of guy in American usage (and in international English) is the demise of man. Think about it, who is a man these days? When do you use the word? Watch your speech and see for yourself.

  22. Steven Clancy says:

    Also, singular use of guy with female reference does exist, odd as it may seem:
    I have an example in my paper and I found a link to a few more here:
    http://listserv.linguistlist.org/cgi-bin/wa?A2=ind0503A&L=ads-l&P=9606
    And another factor is that again and again and again words having primarily male reference come to take on generic reference, not only in English, words with female reference do not. This is likely a feature of markedness, pronouns and nouns with female reference are more highly marked (semantically and often formally as well) than words with male reference.
    Also note the historical development of English pronouns. Generic reference with he is interesting given the fact that in Middle English pronouns for he/she/they all settled on something very close to he, so a Scandinavian import of they and she became incorporated into English to reestablish the distinctions, again a reason that the old he was less marked and more likely for generic usage than she (even today).
    When people attribute the origins of generic man and he to simple sexism, this just doesn’t hold up in my opinion. There are lots of good reasons out there in the development of English and other languages for generics to develop the way that they do.

  23. michael farris says:

    “And I can at least attest that when I was in college in Texas, y’all was the first word the non-southern students picked up on”
    When I was living in Gainesville, Fl (university town for non US readers) there was a shifting population and a longer term population that included people from all over the country (and world). Everyone in the longer term population used yall no matter what their original dialect was.

  24. michael farris says:

    “And I can at least attest that when I was in college in Texas, y’all was the first word the non-southern students picked up on”
    When I was living in Gainesville, Fl (university town for non US readers) there was a shifting population and a longer term population that included people from all over the country (and world). Everyone in the longer term population used yall no matter what their original dialect was.

  25. michael farris says:

    “singular y’all sounds very weird to me, but it does exist”
    citations? examples? Or am I gonna have to get dravidian on your ass?

  26. Steven Clancy says:

    A final comment is to watch out for those (early) British uses of singular guy with female reference. British guy (perhaps still) has overriding associations with Guy Fawkes (and this seems to be the only viable etymology as far as I can tell anyway) and the effigies that are made. So if you see guy for a woman in, say, Thackeray’s Vanity Fair (can’t find the example right now), it probably refers to a manner of gaudy dress or the like.
    Okay, I’m done.

  27. Steven Clancy says:

    I don’t have a dog in the sg y’all hunt so don’t have the data on hand. I would never use it that way, it sounds completely wrong to me and I would never countenance someone saying that y’all WAS singular and all y’all the plural, but some people out there do use it in the singular, so it surely seems to exist (I read the debunking links earlier, but even those comments include claims to hearing sg. y’all). I’ve seen the examples, at least enough to lead me to believe that some Southern speakers do use y’all in the singular regardless of what I would prescribe as proper y’all usage.

  28. A mistaken understanding of the pragmatics of the reported utterance–as, for example, when a salesperson bids goodbye to a solitary customer by saying Y’all come back, hear? (an idiom meaning ‘you and your friends and family come back, please!’). Note that salespersons are not reported as greeting their solitary customers with *Can I help y’all?
    Is this only the case when the person addressed is a known person known to have family? If not, it’s used with strangers it strikes me as a polite form. That does not mean that it has to be the polite form used in every context, just in this particular context. It strikes me as the same kind of thing as addressing someone in the third person, “The gentleman….”

  29. My issue with “you guys” coming from a waitperson is not whether it’s grammatically correct — it’s just plain disrespectful. I’m there to drop a pile of money on a decent meal, and I and the folks I’m sitting with are not “you guys”. Say “you guys” once at my table, and the tip drops significantly, right off the bat.

  30. When a parent calls out to three kids, ”Y’all get in here out of the rain,” does she think only one child is being summoned?
    This strikes me as silly. Saying that y’all is a polite singular doesn’t mean that it isn’t also a plural, in the same way that when the third person is used as a polite first person, that doesn’t mean it isn’t also used as a third person. Likewise “vous”.
    A lot of polite first person pronouns are substitutions, if you want to call that “pragmatics” — well, that’s what I was trying to say.
    If a shopkeeper never would say “Y’all come back” to a stranger, I’d be wrong.

  31. I don’t have a dog in the sg y’all hunt so don’t have the data on hand. I would never use it that way, it sounds completely wrong to me and I would never countenance someone saying that y’all WAS singular and all y’all the plural, but some people out there do use it in the singular
    I dunno, I find this attitude odd. I have Southern roots myself and I too would never use it that way, it sounds completely wrong to me, and therefore I conclude that it is wrong. Like michael farris, I want examples; I can understand your not having them at hand, but I find it hard to understand your willingness to accept the (on the face of it unlikely/impossible) singular use without them, considering your own native-speaker intuitions. Absent examples, how can you be so sure that “some people out there do use it in the singular”?

  32. Oh, and thanks for the reference to your article; here‘s the direct link.

  33. michael farris says:

    Speaking for myself, I wouldn’t (and didn’t when I spent a miserable most of a year in a convenience store) use yall with a solitary customer I didn’t know. I might use yall with a solitary customer whose affiliates of whatever kind were also customers sometimes.
    A borderline case might be an unknown customer buying something that you’d have reason to believe they wouldn’t use themself (or clearly indicates belongng to a family). In that case yall _might_ be possible (but again as a representative of a group). And there is that general southern assumption that a person has a family they either live with or are in everyday contact with.
    I tried to imagine using yall with a person I knew didn’t have a family (and who i’d have cause to speak politely with) and it sounds just awful (and kind of mean).

  34. Perhaps different Southern groups or individuals use it differently? The way different Northern groups use “guys” differently?
    We’re at the point now where three different (non-professional) Southern sources are being accused of being wrong about their own culture.
    We’re talking about use, right. Because I didn’t mean to say that “y’all” and “all y’all” fit exclusively into different slots in the paradigm. What I have understood to be the case is that “you” or “y’all” can be singular, with the latter being the polite form, and “y’all” or “all y’all” (and presumably “you”) can be plural, with “all y’all” being uniquely plural, with only “thou” (not used”) being unmistakably singular (in theoretically intimate).
    The messiness and lack of consistency of the system is what reminds me of what I was taught about Brazilian Portuguese.
    And if thats’ all just called “pragmatics”, I think that probably all polite substitutions are. Neither “y’all” nor “all y’all” are in the grammatical pardigm.
    No personal experience, no citations, I’ve just heard it a bunch of times second hand. Maybe it’s all just a Kinky Friedman, Tillery, Wikle, and Bailey, and Y’all: The Magazine of Southern People legpull. It’s not like I made it up, though. But I’m not going to go down there to research the question.

  35. michael farris says:

    “The messiness and lack of consistency of the system is what reminds me of what I was taught about Brazilian Portuguese.”
    But what might be called “native users” of yall are all very consistent (insistent even) in its exclusively plural orientation (at least in their own usage).
    All the ‘singular’ usages I’ve ever heard of are by people that don’t use yall naturally or who are in the business of telling tall tales to non-southerners.
    One thing that might cause confusion is that most people who use yall don’t use it every single time they mean a plural. That is you use it to establish plural reference but subsequent references to the same yall will probably be ‘you’ as in:
    “Do yall know when you’ll be back?” (here both yall and you refer to the same group of people).
    it doesn’t work vice versa though:
    “Do you know when yall’ll be back?”
    Or
    “Do you realize yall’ve been living here for three years now?”
    (In these two sentences ‘you’ is the single person I’m talking to and ‘yall’ is a group the single person belongs to).
    I can see how that kind of sentence might be interepreted as singular usage of yall.

  36. But what might be called “native users” of yall are all very consistent (insistent even) in its exclusively plural orientation (at least in their own usage).
    My counterargument is strictly of the “Where there’s smoke there’s fire” type. A lot of people seem to be making the same mistake.
    If this is true of all Southerners, I’d say your point is made:
    Speaking for myself, I wouldn’t (and didn’t when I spent a miserable most of a year in a convenience store) use yall with a solitary customer I didn’t know.
    But then, I’m also often told that there are many Southern dialects, not just one.

  37. When someone claims that “‘y’all’ is singular; ‘all y’all’ is plural”, what they mean is, “<insert blatantly false statement here>”. Perhaps “y’all” is sometimes used in reference to just one person — I’ve never heard it that way, and would double-take if I did, but I’ve heard borderline cases like those described above, and I could imagine such uses evolving by re-analysis and gaining new, strictly single-person meanings — but no one could legitimately claim that “y’all” is never plural. That’s just crazy talk.

  38. I don’t think that that’s the claim. I think that the claim is that “all y’all” is unambiguously plural (or group-directed), and that the form exists to make it unambiguous, whereas “y’all” is ambiguous.

  39. Steven Clancy says:

    Okay, I tracked down my singular y’all example. This is the first one I ever saw. I remember it because it was so so so odd to me that anyone would use y’all in the singular. I think it is from 1999 and it was in a letter to the editor of the Raleigh News and Observer. I will preface this example with a few more comments…
    1) It is interesting to think of the sg. y’all examples as hoaxes. I could believe that.
    2) It seems entirely plausible to me that originally plural y’all could take on singular usage for certain reasons somewhere in the vast y’all territory of the US, regardless of my intuitions regarding it’s use and my own use. After all, it has happened before.
    3) the hoax is certainly possible. While I was in North Carolina, the Raleigh News and Observer routinely seemed to be a newspaper run by and run for Northern transplants to NC with frequent how to understand these hicks you live among features. Maybe this is an urban legend, I’ll need to track down the Amerian Speech article on this.
    With all those grains of salt taken, I present the example:
    Southern grammar: the story of a singular y’all (News and Observer perhaps sometime in 1999)
    Regarding the Nov. 9 People’s Forum letter “Strictly speaking”:
    Apparently there is some misunderstanding of the proper use of the word “y’all.” I am reminded of a tale I heard in college.
    At the time the late Clarence Stasavich was head football coach for East Carolina. At practice one day, the coach told a young backfield player from Pennsylvania that “when the ball is snapped, y’all take the ball and run through the hole. The play began, and as the player went through the line, he was hit, the hole closed and the kid wound up on the ground.
    Coach called the players together and said “Son, I told ya’ll to run through the hole. What happened?”
    The young man replied, “Coach, when you said ‘y’all,’ I thought you meant the entire backfield.”
    Coach looked at the young man and in a very slow, dry manner said, “Son, if I had meant the entire backfield, I’d have said…all y’all.”
    Enough said.
    Kirby Ward
    Cary

  40. Granting the hoax theory for the moment, mabe the singular “y’all” was invented to explain why anyone would ever say “all y’all”.

  41. In American Speech 58:1 (1983)George Jochnowitz identifies “you guys” as “simply the unmarked plural of you” and suggests “the pronominalization of you guys and the loss of the lexical meaning of guys happened simultaneously.
    My favorite bit:
    In Hawaiian Creole a subsequent change has taken place. Guys is simply the plural morpheme, replacing older them or dem. According to William A. Stewart (personal communication), guys was first used only with animate nouns, e.g. horse guys = ‘horses’, but since 1920 or so has been used with inanimate nouns as well: house guys = ‘houses’.
    Another View of You Guys

  42. me again,
    What I really cannot endure is when someone addresses a group of women as “ladies.”
    “Will you ladies be having anything else?”
    auauaurghrghrgh!

  43. why anyone would ever say “all y’all”
    The same reason other dialects say, “all of you.” For example, compare the six instances of “y’all” and one of “all y’all” in Paula Deen’s FAQ. I’d be surprised if someone told me she isn’t a native speaker of “standard” Southern American English.
    I’m not qualified to have a position on the bigger question, having grown up without any 2pl. pronoun and picked up “you guys” when I came to the Northeast decades ago.

  44. As a non-native speaker I’ve little to add, except that I distinctly recall that in a piece of televised american culture, the CHARLIE BROWN CHRISTMAS SPECIAL, “gals” is treated as the feminine plural equivalent of “guys” (“guys and gals”), and I had always thought that its use as a gender-neutral plural was a comparatively recent change.

  45. When will these people learn? “Guys” in the plural is now a pronoun, and has little to do with the singular noun “guy”.

  46. Steven Clancy says:

    guys and gals certainly exists, but gals is already archaic if you ask me as would be guys and dolls. That Charlie Brown special dates from 1965. I would agree that the rise of guy is a relatively recent phenomenon. The pair today, as I maintain in my paper is guy/girl, especially for young men and women in their 20s (college-aged) which leads to some interesting asymmetries with boy/girl and man/woman.

  47. steven Clancy says:

    One of the reasons I really didn’t deal much at all with ‘you guy’s in my guy paper was that, whereas this is surely the most frequently used construction involving English guy, it is also not all that interesting at this point. you guys has fully grammaticalized as one of the possible 2nd pl pronouns in American English and shouldn’t be regarded as anything more than ‘you’ pl., but note that just because something has become grammaticalized and undergone some semantic bleaching, doesn’t mean it has lost all of its associations with the lexical item and its continually developing semantics and usage.
    The Hawaiian creole example above is fascinating!

  48. Hey Martin,
    If the server doesn’t tie your bib on and polish your silver eating utensils do you decide that they should be forced to serve you food for no payment?

  49. Martin, I’m guessing you guys are always on the lookout for an excuse to not tip.

  50. Maybe we could all pretend we’re from Pittsburgh and say “youse” or “yinz” in this context?
    Seems to me if you were pretending to be from Pittsburgh, you could say “you’ns” (you-ones) and of course you could spell it however you wanted. But if you used “youse” you’d be pretending to be from somewhere else- Bronx maybe?
    I’ll keep speaking my dialect, you keep speaking your’n.

  51. I grew up in Aotearoa in the 70s, and “guys” as a gender neutral 2nd-person plural was already firmly established then, predating the final coca-colanisation of Zildish by USn.

  52. The Hawaiian creole example above is fascinating!
    Indeed, as is this entire discussion. I love all y’all!

  53. “Martin, I’m guessing you guys are always on the lookout for an excuse to not tip.”
    Actually, no. Us guys, Mrs. Martin and me, have both worked as waitstaff and we know what it’s like. I don’t sit there calculating the tip as the waitperson does things well or not so well, and I know very well that much of the dining experience is outside their control. But what you call your customers is totally in your control, and it’s not “you guys.” Since this is generally part of the initial greeting and then continues throughout the meal (“how’s everything, you guys?”), it grates. And John, no, I wouldn’t stiff anybody. If anything, “you guys” just inclines me from my usual 20% to something a little less. “Significantly” isn’t really the right word.

  54. From a waiter I prefer “Hey, buddy, here you go!”, whereas a good waitress will call me “Hon”.

  55. My impression is that in colloquial Hawaiian English, X-guys is the plain plural/collective marker (though I’ve never heard it used for nonhumans), while X-folks is the polite equivalent. Perhaps it’s a calque on Japanese X-ra vs. X-tachi. In both cases, I think you can attach it to personal names to indicate ‘X and associates’, a collectivity of whatever kind: family, classmates, workmates, or drinking buddies.

  56. My impression, and it would nice to hear from someone under 30, is that “guys” is already starting to sound a little square. “Hey guys!” connotes images of the geeky kid chasing after the cool kids – “hey guys! Wait up!”. And of course they never do.
    To my ears at least “nu, rebyata” in Russian sounds much cooler than “so, guys” in English.
    But then the question arises, what is the substitute? “Dudes” in some circles, “bros” in others. I think when a waitress addresses a table of men, “boys” sounds best. “So boys, what’ll it be?”

  57. My impression, and it would nice to hear from someone under 30…
    Well, I’m a 28-year old woman, and I use “guys” the way LH describes in the first bit of this entry.
    I agree with Vanya that “rebyata” is infinitely cooler, but there isn’t much choice, as far as I can tell. “Everyone” seems less friendly. “Gals” is definitely archaic, but I often use it somewhat tongue-in-cheek. Same goes for “ladies.” I’ve never felt insulted at being addressed that way–really, I just feel sympathy for the poor restaurant workers who have to worry about whether they’re using someone’s pet-peeve form of address.

  58. michael farris says:

    “So boys, what’ll it be?”
    YIKES!!!! I’m expecting the next line to be “Just a bl**j*b or a half and half?”

  59. LH:
    Why does the comments page use the format:
    Posted by Executed Today at February 26, 2008 03:09 PM
    rather than
    Posted by Executed Today on February 26, 2008 at 03:09 ?
    Programming error?
    Just curious … :-)

  60. Good lord, I haven’t the faintest idea! You’ll have to take it up with Movable Type. I just push the buttons.

  61. My impression is that in colloquial Hawaiian English, X-guys is the plain plural/collective marker (though I’ve never heard it used for nonhumans), while X-folks is the polite equivalent.
    I don’t know about “folks”, but in Hawaiian Creole, “guys” is used as a plural marker for pronouns, too: us guys, dem guys. E.g.:

    Let us go, an throw out our shame fo all da kine bad stuff we do to you,
    jalike us guys let da odda guys go awready,

    Of course, the “guys” pronouns might be the emphatic form. Anybody knows more?
    I’m expecting the next line to be “Just a bl**j*b or a half and half?”
    I hesitate to ask, but I must: “half and half”, we’re talking about a beverage here, right?

  62. michael farris says:

    bulbul, not wanting to risk attracting more spambots than usual here, I answered your question on your blog.

  63. Thanks michael :)

  64. mollymooly says:

    I much prefer the Cork “ye” to the Dublin “youse”, which latter has, alas, reached New York. It’s true that, in its weak form, “ye” sounds like “you”; but if the distinction is important, you’ll be using the strong form. As a bonus, you get the possessive pronoun “yeer”/”yere” thrown in for free, though we do need to fix on a spelling.

  65. David Marjanović says:

    I can confirm that “you%20guys” (HTML spelling of the spurious space in the middle) has completely grammaticalized. I’ve repeatedly witnessed it being used, to my great astonishment, by a female postdoc addressing a group of university professors, some female, at a congress.

  66. parvomagnus says:

    “Do you know when yall’ll be back?”
    Or
    “Do you realize yall’ve been living here for three years now?”

    Well, to obstinately muddy the waters, those are both fine for me, if I’m talking to a single person about a group that person’s a part of. It’s, “do [you sole present person] know when [that group of people you're traveling with, who aren't here right now]‘ll be back?”.
    If I said it that way when the whole group *was* present, it’d seem weird and exclusionary, like I was pointedly not including them.

  67. michael farris says:

    parvomagnus, I don’t think you’re muddying the waters, you’re saying exactly what I was saying (or trying to at any rate) with an additional bit of info I didn’t include but completely agree with.

  68. Yes, that’s exactly the kind of proleptically plural use that leads the ignorant into concluding that “y’all” can be used as a singular. People up north say “you guys” in exactly the same circumstances.

  69. mollymooly says:

    Perhaps proleptically plural use will turn out to be a waystation on the road to truly singular use.

  70. Ginger Yellow says:

    I’m with Bridget at the top of the thread. I use the phrase all the time, mainly because I feel a need for a distinctive second person plural. I’ve had one person object, and I can see their point of view, but there’s no realistic alternative at the moment. “You people” sounds awkward or derogatory. I think there’s a qualitative difference between this usage and, say, “chairman”, where there’s a normative connotation. It probably also helps that (it seems to me) “guy” is much less commonly used in the UK to refer to individual men. We use “bloke” instead.

  71. I knew a woman who grew up in Louisiana, New Orleans, who definitely used y’all as a singular, and not as a formal or indefinite singular, either. I don’t remember examples — this was thirty years ago now — but I know it was so because we were in grad school studying Old English together, and we were well aware of the various linguistic uses of second person pronouns. I proposed that it might be a plural (or a formal or an indefinite) “you” and she gave me a number of convincing counterexamples. I *wanted* it to be a consistently plural (or formal or indefinite) form, but it just wasn’t. I noted it in her speech for some time, because I thought it interesting. One of the smartest and most observant people I ever knew. She said that the people she grew up with used it that way, and I believe her. I’m perfectly willing to believe there are many speech communities in which y’all is never used as a singular. But the South is a big place. There’s room there for a bit of variation, nicht?

  72. michael farris says:

    Well Louisiana is a different kind of place, with lots of weird stuff going on.
    I would wonder if French substrate would have been playing a role in that usage?

  73. Very interesting—all right, given that testimony from someone with linguistic training who raised the issue specifically and was told that it was local usage, I accept that in Louisiana (and perhaps other places) there are dialects that do use singular y’all. As you say, the South is a big place. Thanks for expanding my horizons!

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