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  • Writer's pictureMike Ferko

“Hey, You Guys” – and That’s No Insult

Ever wonder where the term “you guys” originated? Or, as we say in Pittsburgh, “yinz guys?”

I’ve always assumed that women found it offensive when addressed as “you guys” at restaurants, presentations and other social interactions. But my informal poll of female friends and family found not one respondent took umbrage at the term.

Anyway, I recently read an interesting article by linguist and historian Allan Metcalf. According to Mr. Metcalf, the word “guys” originated in 1605 in London with what came to know as “The Gunpowder Plot.”

It seems a young Catholic soldier named Guy Fawkes schemed to blow up nearly all of King James Parliament in the hope those politicians would be replaced by others sharing Fawkes’s Catholic faith.

He failed, but his actions resulted in the passing of the Fifth of November Act – a holiday created to give thanks to God for Guy Fawkes’ ineptitude, and to mock his actions. Brits burned effigies of Fawkes and people began referring to those effigies as “guys.” Eventually, they started calling real people “guys” as well.

Not until the mid-20th Century, according to Metcalf, were women lumped into the category of “you guys.” It’s essentially just become a plural of “you,” regardless of gender.

As I said, my recent informal poll of friends and family didn’t find one woman offended by the term. However, let me share a story from my previous life:

Several years ago, I consulted for a firm attempting to sell a digital product apropos to schools. My assignment was to line up a meeting with about 100 officials from the local Catholic schools. Imagine my horror when during the presentation, my client’s partner repeatedly referred to a roomful of school principals (90 percent of them nuns) as “you guys.”

Not surprisingly, we did not make the sale.

In our business, it always makes sense to think about how we address people in writing, on the web or in person. What’s wrong with “Good morning ladies and gentleman?” Or “Hello, folks,” versus, “How are you guys this morning?”

I’m still offended, even if my female pollsters are not.

Now, as for “yinz,” no self-respecting Pittsburgher would ever take affront at that local gem.

Read more on Guy Fawkes and other Gunpowder plot conspirators.


Mike Ferko is a Director of Business Development in Ceisler Media's Pittsburgh office.


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