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

Laurence Horn laurence.horn at YALE.EDU
Fri Jun 12 15:45:57 UTC 2015


> On Jun 12, 2015, at 5:42 AM, Geoffrey Steven Nathan <geoffnathan at wayne.edu> wrote:
> 
> 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. 
> 
> Geoff 

Here's an apposite passage from another book of his, in which he strenuously objects to the use of sex-neutral (or female-referring) "guys" in either vocative or referential contexts, and calling out "the friendly male and female swim and gym teachers" who "address the children, even in their all-girl classes, as 'you guys' in nearly every sentence they utter, thus subliminally inculcating in their innocent and malleable charges, from a very tender age on, that _being a guy_ is what one really wants in this world."  As to why nobody, even "feminists of most stripes" who would object to generic "man", objects to the neutral use of "guys" and "you guys", he offers this hypothesis: 

The reasons that women seem to be happy being called “guys” when the term also continues to be used as a clear and sharp opposite to “girls” and “women”—“Girls to the right, guys to left”, for instance—are many and murky…My own conviction is that the phrase’s desirability is due precisely to the fact that “guy” in the singular remains clearly masculine, thus imbuing the word’s unconscious halo with the positive aura associated with being male in our society.                           

Hofstadter, Douglas (1997)  Le Ton beau de Marot:  In Praise of the Music of Language.  New York:  Basic Books. p. 202

But that was almost 20 years ago, so it's possible even he may have thrown in the towel by now.

LH
> 
> Geoffrey S. Nathan 
> Faculty Liaison, C&IT 
> and Professor, Linguistics Program 
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> 
> ----- Original Message -----
> 
>> From: "Geoffrey Nunberg" <nunberg at ISCHOOL.BERKELEY.EDU>
>> To: ADS-L at LISTSERV.UGA.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
>>> https://urldefense.proofpoint.com/v2/url?u=http-3A__www.vox.com_2015_6_11_8761227_you-2Dguys-2Dsexism-2Dlanguage&d=AwIFaQ&c=-dg2m7zWuuDZ0MUcV7Sdqw&r=wFp3X4Mu39hB2bf13gtz0ZpW1TsSxPIWYiZRsMFFaLQ&m=Y3HulPywaNpH7rW0aZI-FYjZ1Hbldfp-N2U4apl5iU4&s=Rvz-I9weCf7cOE4iga821BtynN3120fq8JifEOmMo_w&e= 
> 
>> 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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> 
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