Hey, y’all, it’s time to talk about you guys. We don’t mean you specifically … but the term itself.
For years, the phrase you guys has been employed as a useful workaround when addressing a mixed-gender group. But as gender norms evolve, the usefulness and appropriateness of you guys comes into question. The gendered baggage of this term has some calling for its retirement from the English lexicon. Here’s why:
What’s wrong with you guys?
Addressing a group of people as “guys” isn’t gender inclusive. True, the word guys has a gender-neutral sense in Dictionary.com of “persons of either sex; people.” But the most common and prominent meaning of the word is “a man or boy; fellow.”
Some argue that male-generic terms such as this reinforce androcentric bias and male privilege. This argument comes into focus when you think about the absence of female-generic terms. When was the last time you heard a mixed-gender group of people addressed as “girls” or “ladies”? Additionally, by invoking female and male in the first place, the expression you guys excludes people who identify as nonbinary.
So why has you guys become so widespread? It fills a gap in the English language. We don’t have many options for second-person plural pronouns. Spanish has the handy ustedes, but in English we are left with clunky approximations that often miss the mark tone-wise (folks, friends, humans?).
What can we use in place of you guys?
There is one option that strikes us as particularly useful: y’all. Y’all is a contraction of you all, a construction that English speakers in the South have found useful for centuries. Y’all’s regional provenance prevents some from embracing it. But others hail it as the gender-neutral answer to you guys and argue for its inclusion in Standard English. What’s more, a map based on the Harvard Dialect Survey shows y’all and you all popping up in places you might not expect as far back as 2003 (when the survey was completed).
Other regionalisms have emerged to fill the gap, too, including yinz (hello, Pittsburgh), you-uns, yous, or youse, but is there really a choice here, y’all? Y’all is warm, and it’s inclusive. It’s casual but not overly personal, and heck, it’s just a lot of fun to say (try it: yawl, yawl). In fact, one might say it’s the mot juste for most any occasion.
Of course, some will hold the gender-neutral sense of guys near and dear and continue to use hey guys with no ill will … but as we evolve our language tends to as well. So if you’re searching for a baggage-free option, don’t be afraid to try y’all on for size.