pro-formal (?) nature of "guy"

Laurence Horn laurence.horn at YALE.EDU
Thu Oct 4 12:44:32 UTC 2012

On Oct 4, 2012, at 8:25 AM, Jonathan Lighter wrote:

> Though it doesn't add a great deal, see HDAS.
> I believe I've posted a few supplementary items here over the years, but
> they don't add much either.
> The "freaky-looking person" sense applied to either sex.
> JL

Right, I should have.  The sporadic hits for "she's a 'real guy'" (Eugene O'Neill, 1927), "Be a good guy, Ma" (1929), "She's a great guy" (1934), or "a regular guy", "a right guy" (also from the 1930s) suggests that "a POS-ADJ guy" was functioning formulaicly during this period, given the absence of the kind of examples of female-referring (or rather female-allowing) "guy" in more recent occurrence that I was discussing:  "the other guy", "the next guy", "just one guy", "the chosen guy".  In the latter examples, "person" could substitute without changing the intended meaning, but in the former ones it really can't, since "a real/regular/good/great… guy" connoted something that the equivalents with "person" wouldn't have.  Compare (maybe) "our go-to guy" (in woman's basketball).


> On Thu, Oct 4, 2012 at 12:36 AM, W Brewer <brewerwa at> wrote:
>> ---------------------- Information from the mail header
>> -----------------------
>> Sender:       American Dialect Society <ADS-L at LISTSERV.UGA.EDU>
>> Poster:       W Brewer <brewerwa at GMAIL.COM>
>> Subject:      Re: pro-formal (?) nature of "guy"
>> -------------------------------------------------------------------------------
>> LH wrote: <<< argument for the pro-formal (?) nature of "guy" ... singular
>> "guy" . . . sex-neutral>>>
>> JB wrote: <<<"guy" has become gender-neutral =85 refers to a group of all
>> women>>>
>> WB: How far has the feminization spread through the grammatical levels? And
>> diffused through the Anglologue community? WB early 1970s, JB Sep 29 or 30,
>> 2012. (Q1) Was _you_guys_ (colloq 2nd pers pl) ever exclusively male,
>> before going epicene? Not for me; it was feminist use at UCB '70s. My
>> Chapman says _guy_ refers to either, but esp. men fr late 1800s; _guys_ to
>> women in address. {Aha moment: Holy mackerel, guy comes from Guy, a guy's
>> name. Wow.} Now that I think about it, I say to my daughters, <<What are
>> you guys up to?>> (no darlings), or to a man&woman couple <<What are you
>> guys doing for dinner?>> But to a couple of men, to say <<What's up,
>> guys?>> feels somewhat less appropriate; context requires something more
>> macho. (Q2) Any attestations of _guy_ (masc sg) coming out as epicoene?
>> (cf. LH's notes) <<Hey, guy, what's yer problem?>> (Only male in my
>> idiolect. Idionym-proform cross-over?) How about babies? <<Oh, what a cute
>> little baby, just look at this guy!>> (male only?  Maybe, if gender
>> unknown? [Can we still refer to sex-unknown infants as <<it>>?]) (Q3) Any
>> evidence of _Guy_ (masc idionym) being epicoenified, like Isidore, Joyce
>> (subsequently inducing male epicoenophobia)? (Guy only male for me.)
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