"man" vs. "guy" redux

Dennis R. Preston preston at PILOT.MSU.EDU
Mon Nov 18 17:11:36 UTC 2002

Such collocations as "bad guys" and "a guy thing" would seem to
contradict this reasoning, while such horrors as "The Man Show" ("The
Guy Show"?) seem to support it.

dInIs (who now lives in the gender-free guy area of MI, although only
for direct (plural) address:

Hey you guys! (mixed group, men only, women only)

I saw two guys (this guy) down by the pond (men only)

Several months ago we discussed the widespread use of "guy(s)" where one
might well have expected "man/men", even where there was no question of
trying to be gender-inclusive because the reference was quite clearly to
men stricto sensu, adult males of species Homo sapiens. IIRC, we reached
no conclusion or hypothesis as to the reason for this replacement. I
would like to hypothesize a reason: modesty.

It seems to me that "man" often carries a strong connotation of
"virtus", i.e., manliness, embodiment of the male virtues howsoever
defined. These often include courage, strength, swagger, sexual prowess,
etc., each in its proper place and time. But in the kinds of context
where we see "guy"='man' spreading, explicitly attributing such
characteristics to oneself or one's group would be unseemly boasting.
"Guy" is neutral and suggests a diffidence appropriate to the
conventions of the context.

Whaddya think, guys?

-- Mark A. Mandel
    Linguistic Data Consortium, University of Pennsylvania

Dennis R. Preston
Professor of Linguistics
Department of Linguistics & Germanic, Slavic,
      Asian & African Languages
Michigan State University
East Lansing, MI 48824-1027
e-mail: preston at msu.edu
phone: (517) 353-9290

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