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Do we need to rethink our use of the word "guys"?

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Anna Brech
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It’s the go-to of everyday chat, in the office and beyond. But a new generation of people are looking for an alternative to the word “guys” - and here’s why

“Guys” is the kind of phrase we habitually turn to in everyday office speak.

“Hey guys, would you mind if…”

“Guys, can I get your thoughts on… ?”

And although many people use the phrase as if it’s gender neutral, a new thought piece from The Atlantic explores “a sizable contingent of conscientious objectors” who view it as “a symbol of exclusion”.

It’s a word that we reach for, each and every day

Writer Joe Pinsker has spoken to a growing group of people who want an alternative to “a word with an originally male meaning that is frequently used to refer to people who don’t consider themselves ‘guys.’”

One of these is California-based college counsellor and transgender woman Brad Ward, who tells the publication, “When I’m included with a group that is called guys, there’s some pain, since it takes me back to my male days in a way that I’d rather not go.”

Amy Chong, a San Francisco user experience researcher, agrees that the term can be problematic.  

“There are a lot of guys in tech and ‘guys’ is used all the time in my work and social environments by both men and women,” she says. “But since it doesn’t resonate with me anymore, I do feel like I’m not part of the group.”

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How often do you use the word “guys”?

Pinsker’s article examines the use of “guys” in the context of the States, but the word is almost as ubiquitous here in the UK, too.

In fact, it’s a term that originates from none other than Guy Fawkes and the nefarious gunpowder plot of 1605.

From this, it took the less-than-flattering meaning of, “A person of grotesque appearance, [especially] with reference to dress; a ‘fright.’”

And somehow, over the centuries, that evolved into meaning “men” and then simply, a collective term for people.

This isn’t the first time our compulsive use of the word “guys” has fallen under scrutiny.

“Whether it’s the group e-mail that opens ‘Hi Guys!’ or the waiter who says ‘OK, guys, your table is ready,’ the use of ‘you guys’ for groups of mixed gender (and even for all-female groups) can send the needle on many peeve-ometers into the red,” notes this piece by lexicographer Erin McKean back in 2010.

However, as she points out, “in English there are relatively few ways to address a mixed group, and each has its own problems. ‘Ladies and Gentlemen’ can sound either too hokey or too formal… and a plain and unadorned ‘you’ may not convey enough inclusiveness.”

Using the word “guys” in an office setting lacks finesse, according to experts

Of course, there are still plenty of people who have zero problem with using the word “guys”, no matter whom they’re addressing. 

But, whether or not you want to argue the semantics of the matter, etiquette experts are agreed that the word “guys” is not suitable for work.

“Guys” is “a slang term and should be avoided”, etiquette coach Jacqueline Whitmore tells Business Insider

Her advice? “Use ‘you all’ or ‘everyone’ instead.”

Business communications expert Barbara Pachter adds that using the word “guys” in emails “seems sloppy”.

“Using ‘you,’ ‘the team,’ or ‘everyone’ is more professional,” she says.

Images: Getty

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Anna Brech

Anna Brech is a freelance journalist and former editor for stylist.co.uk. Her six-year stint on the site saw her develop a vociferous appetite for live Analytics, feminist opinion and good-quality gin in roughly equal measure. She enjoys writing across all areas of women’s lifestyle content but has a soft spot for books and escapist travel content.

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