[Ads-l] fines for saying "you guys" to mixed groups?

Geoffrey Steven Nathan geoffnathan at WAYNE.EDU
Fri Jun 12 09:42:22 UTC 2015

Several years ago Douglas Hofstadter (the guy who wrote Gödel, Escher, Bach) gave a talk at a Cognitive Linguistics conference where he argued that 'guys' was sexist and 'we' should all eliminate it from our vocabulary. His evidence was that 'guy' could be used to mean 'male': 

'No, it wasn't a woman--I'm sure it was a guy' 

but he's not a linguist, and questions from the (very agitated) audience made it clear that he hadn't thought about the possibility that 'guys' was a different lexical entry, that polysemy existed, and that language changes. I almost felt sorry for him by the end of the question period. I think both George Lakoff and Ray Jackendoff were in the crowd, and perhaps some of you have seen them ask questions. 


Geoffrey S. Nathan 
Faculty Liaison, C&IT 
and Professor, Linguistics Program 
+1 (313) 577-1259 (C&IT) 

Nobody at Wayne State will EVER ask you for your password. Never send it to anyone in an email, no matter how authentic the email looks. 

----- Original Message -----

> From: "Geoffrey Nunberg" <nunberg at ISCHOOL.BERKELEY.EDU>
> Sent: Thursday, June 11, 2015 6:46:14 PM
> Subject: fines for saying "you guys" to mixed groups?

> ---------------------- Information from the mail header
> -----------------------
> Sender: American Dialect Society <ADS-L at LISTSERV.UGA.EDU>
> Poster: Geoffrey Nunberg <nunberg at ISCHOOL.BERKELEY.EDU>
> Subject: fines for saying "you guys" to mixed groups?
> -------------------------------------------------------------------------------

> =46rom VOX:
> >=20
> > The tech startup npm recently blogged about the unusual challenge
> > some =
> of its employees have agreed to participate in: they put a dollar in
> a =
> glass jar every time they say "you guys.=E2=80=9D
> >=20
> > "We didn=E2=80=99t invent the idea, though I=E2=80=99m not sure
> > where =
> we first heard about it," reads the company's explanation on Tumblr.
> =
> "But the idea is: if you believe that using the word 'guys' to
> describe =
> a mixed-gender group of individuals is creeping sexism, and are
> trying =
> to eliminate that word from your casual use, you put a dollar in the
> jar =
> every time you do it accidentally.=E2=80=9D
> >=20
> > Jeane Anastas, a professor of social work at the NYU Silver School
> > of =
> Social Work whose research focuses in part on women's issues, said in
> an =
> email to Vox, "Whatever Webster's dictionary says about the plural =
> 'guys' ['used in plural to refer to the members of a group regardless
> of =
> sex'] and despite the fact that I sometimes catch myself saying 'you
> =
> guys' to people of all genders, 'guy' is a gendered word. "
> >=20
> > http://www.vox.com/2015/6/11/8761227/you-guys-sexism-language

> I haven=E2=80=99t tracked the development of these uses of
> =E2=80=98guys=E2=
> =80=99 enough to have an opinion on this, but it surprised me at
> first.

> Geoff=

> ------------------------------------------------------------
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