guys != gender neutral

Joe Greco jgreco at
Fri Sep 28 11:13:57 UTC 2012

> > Guys seem to think that it's gender neutral. The majority of women are
> > used to this, but they have indicated to me that they don't believe it to
> > be very neutral. Using "guys" is not gender neutral, it's flat out implying
> > the other gender doesn't matter. *
> The Oxford English dictionary apparently disagrees with you.
> (*guys*) people of either sex: * you guys want some coffee?
> *
> As other many words in the English language there are multiple definitions,
> and one of those definitions is gender specific - but the one above is very
> much gender neutral ("either sex" - it doesn't get much clearer than that!)

The modern English language generally lacks gender-neutral singular 
personal pronouns that are distinct from the masculine versions; this 
is either a bug or a feature of the language, but it is also a fact.

Some advocate the use of indefinite pronouns to work around this lack,
but fundamentally, if you want to interoperate with others who speak
English, it is going to be a losing battle to be offended when "guys"
is used.

The argument in the first quoted paragraph isn't strictly rational.  It 
could easily be argued that women get the special term "gals" that does
refer exclusively to women, while men get the more general term "guys" 
that does not exclusively refer to men.  This could easily be taken to 
mean that women matter more than men, because they get their own special
term.  However, in reality, this appears to be mostly an exercise in
how to find ways to be offended at random things that are simply part
of the language, and if someone is just setting out to find ways to be
offended, nobody better open their mouth to begin with...

I would propose that randomly switching back and forth between "guys"
and "gals" is a violation of Postel's robustness principle (look at that
NANOG tie-in!), because being conservative about what you're sending
probably means not referring to males with the term "gals."  On the
other hand, using indefinite pronouns when speaking would be a suitable
workaround under that guidance.

Rather than further breaking the language, it might be more sensible to
modify the language to address the deficiency.  Maybe that's an RFC, or
just needs a real-world working implementation, but I'll note that several
gender-neutral pronouns have died out, so maybe there's just no demand.


... JG
Joe Greco - Network Services - Milwaukee, WI -
"We call it the 'one bite at the apple' rule. Give me one chance [and] then I
won't contact you again." - Direct Marketing Ass'n position on e-mail spam(CNN)
With 24 million small businesses in the US alone, that's way too many apples.

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