Wednesday, June 11, 2014

Banish You Guys, A Scourge on the Language

The ugly, low-class phrase you guys has become the most common way to address listeners.

I have heard people with master’s degrees address a group of educators – all with advanced degrees – as you guys.

I have heard highly-paid business professionals of mixed gender, all in suits, addressed as you guys.

Game show announcers and media commentators with seven- and eight-figure incomes call listeners you guys.

Some of my students are so baffled by this turn of events that when I ask them not to use you guys in formal speeches, they ask, “What should we call a group of people then?”

They were surprised that the English language already has a perfectly good word for addressing a group of people: you.

Once known to every elementary school child that you was both a singular and plural form of address, this has become obscure, esoteric knowledge.

Decades ago, the Modern Language Association and the American Psychological Association acted on research that demonstrated gender-exclusive language has a constrictive effect on people’s abilities to imagine non-gendered roles and characteristics for women.

This is especially true for young children who take what they hear literally. If doctors are referred to as he and nurses as she, they assume those are the roles they must fill.

Gender-inclusive language became preferred.

Women were often told that when a word such as mankind was used, of course it included them. I am pretty sure that if the convention had been to refer to all people as "whitekind," only ignorant racists would argue that people of color should simply know that of course the word included them.

Today the word guys is freighted with traditionally masculine attributes such as watching football, drinking beer, and ogling women. So it is even more offensive to call any group you guys when it may include people born male who choose not to self-present as traditionally masculine.

I am on a one-woman crusade to stop this scourge on the English language.

I have asked colleagues to please stop referring to a group that contains me as you guys as I am not now, have never been, and have no intention of becoming a guy.

I quietly suggested to a department assistant director who supervises a small group of women, all highly accomplished and most with master’s degrees, that it is disrespectful to refer to them as you guys, as she often does as meetings.

I have edited my own speech so that this phrase, as catchy as the flu, does not disgrace my own address.

I penalize student speakers – just a little, just a reminder – who use this phrase in formal speeches.

There is a perfectly good, simple word in the English language for addressing any group of males, or females, or both, or any mixture of males, females, hermaphrodites, transgenders, bisexuals, and the coming generations of cyborgs, chimeras and clones – and that word is YOU.

It is sufficient.

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