pro-formal (?) nature of "guy"

Laurence Horn laurence.horn at YALE.EDU
Wed Oct 3 23:31:35 UTC 2012

On Oct 3, 2012, at 5:36 PM, Joel S. Berson wrote:

> At 10/3/2012 04:41 PM, Laurence Horn wrote:
>> One argument for the pro-formal (?) nature of "guy" is the existence
>> of contexts in which singular "guy" (as opposed to the more
>> easygoing plural) can be sex-neutral--just in case it serves as a
>> kind of place-holder, more or less like "one".
> If this, in simpler words, means "guy" has become gender-neutral, I
> noticed recently a cartoon strip from the Boston Globe in which one
> woman refers to a group of all women as "guys" (twice).

That's been going on for decades.  As noted above, I was specifically referring to *singular* cases, which have been more resistant to sex-neutrality.  Besides the ones I gave earlier (e.g., originally from Steve Kleinedler--

> (1) —Your first mistake was telling him [= an abusive caller] your name.
>      —Yeah, but there were only two of us on the phones, and they would
> have figured it was me because I’m a girl and the other guy is a guy.

--where "the other guy" is sex-neutral but "is a guy" is [+ masculine]), here's another one where "guy" = 'one', from Clancy's 1999 paper in "American Speech", "The ascent of guy":

Steppenwolf was four people and I’m just one guy.
         —actress Joan Allen hosting Saturday Night Live, 11/14/98, cited in Clancy (1999:287)

But these are still much rarer than plural "guys" (in referential or vocative use) for mixed-sex or all-female groups.


> "Recently" means since Saturday (perhaps on Sunday).  "Cartoon strip"
> means one of those featuring fairly realistic human families.  If
> anyone wants more precise identification, that guy will have to ask.
> Joel
> ------------------------------------------------------------
> The American Dialect Society -

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