[Ads-l] anachronism watch--or OED lapse?

Laurence Horn laurence.horn at YALE.EDU
Mon May 25 01:03:22 UTC 2015

I was wondering about an exchange taking place in 1920 between two women in a novel, _The Paris Wife_, by Paula McLain:

Hadley Richardson: "You're a good guy, Kate."
Kate Smith:              "You too, Hash."

Kate is Kate Smith, not the singer, but a friend of Hadley Richardson; Richardson is about to marry Ernest Hemingway, with whom Kate (as she has just conceded) had previously herself been in love.  The two friends have now reconciled, and some time later Hadley and Hemingway divorce, while Kate Smith marries Hem's drinking and writing buddy John Dos Passos.  Anyway, did women in fact use singular "guy", in non-vocative uses, in 1920?  The OED would expect not

Draft Additions October 2011:

colloq. As a form of address to a man (cf. sense 3d). Also in pl. as a form of address to a group of people, in later use sometimes a mixed or all-female group.

Sample cites are mostly plural, and include one from Dos Passos himself:

1876   Punch 14 Dec. 307   Look guys, court thumps and lumps!1918   Stars & Stripes 5 Apr. 1/5   Tell you what, guy... This is better than what they useter be.
1930   J. Dos Passos 42nd Parallel i. 102   Say, yous guys, this is fellowworker McCreary.
1949   Los Angeles Times 6 Nov. ii. 7/1 (heading)    Hey, guys! He's here. Santa gets set for early rush.
1993   M. Crichton Disclosure i. 22   Fuck 'em all. This reorg sucks. I'm with you on this one, guy.

Well, yes, but we know it's also used, and has been for some time, in referential or predicative (and in any case non-address) use for a woman as well as a man.  But for how long?  HDAS nicely clarifies matters:

2b.  a person of either sex, regarded as decent, down-to-earth, good company, etc. [...]
[which is exactly how Hadley and Kate are using it above]

Jon's cites for this postdate the relevant time frame, but not by much: 

1927 E. O'Neill [in a letter] "She's a 'real guy'. You'd like her immensely."
1929 Asch, _Pay Day_, "Be a good guy, Ma, and wait a couple of days."

So maybe McLain's version of Hadley and Kate are jumping the gun a little, but not by much.  The OED seems to need a somewhat more gender- and register-inclusive draft entry. 


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