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OnWords: Hey You Guys!


I have been challenged by several people to comment on the use of the word “guys” as a general form of address. The main complaint goes something like this: “What if we're not all guys, guys?”

And I get it: the use of a gendered generalization when a non-gendered one would be more appropriate rubs against some hard-won principles. But “guys” is such a trite word that it seems like an unworthy target.

After all, the title sequence of The Electric Company on PBS opened with a woman yelling, “Hey you guuuuys!” And that was over 40 years ago.

The literary theorist in me senses that The Electric Company's title sequence was a minor act of liberation: a show developed by progressive people to help raise smart kids took the word “guys” back from its assumed place in the patriarchy by using it inclusively in the voice of a woman.

Such an interpretation might seem radical, but the 1970s were radical times, and despite what some doomsayers might say, they were a good deal more radical than today.

By this measure, the word “guys”should be solidly non-gendered by now. That it isn't, and that we're still sensitive to it, testifies to how much ground patriarchal thinking has regained in the intervening years.