28 thoughts on “Bonus Episode: The Life of Guy – An Interview with Allan Metcalf

  1. Interesting episode as ever, Kevin. I happen to live just a few miles from where Guy Fawkes grew up; indeed, there is an Inn named after him just down the road. Guy Fawkes is such a character that everyone knows of him in the UK – almost to the point of forgetting that other English-speaking nations don’t give him the same level of infamy!

    And of course this area has the Yorkshire accent around it. Somewhat ironically, and I’m not sure if Allan Metcalf was aware of this, but Metcalf as a surname is very common around this very area too.

    Oh and to add to the later part of the episode… yes, ‘you guys’ is used very much throughout the UK.. but no ‘y’all’! (Maybe occasionally ‘you lot’?)

    • As an American who lived outside of London in the 1970’s and now travels to the UK annually, I can share my observations of how the use of the word “guy” has changed over the years. In the 70’s, the word “guy” was rarely used to refer to a (male) person. The word of choice was “bloke”. “You guys” was never used, and once when I used it when referring to a group of females in the second person plural, they all immediately became offended–“we aren’t ‘guys’!” Now when I go to the UK, they used the term “guy” and “you guys” as frequently and in exactly the same way as they do in the US. The word “guy” is used far more than “bloke” which I rarely hear now.

  2. Two things to add. Firstly you guys is still perceived as somewhat gendered so many women don’t like it. Secondly you guys didn’t address the question of use in writing. I don’t think you guys is used there and until it does I don’t think it can be considered the standard English solution

    • I agree. Guys is definitely default male and rough riding over the existence of non-male members of the group. It is most assuredly not considered gender neutral by sufficient of the non-male population to be usable freely in that context.

  3. As a former Yankee living now in the American south, I go to great pains not to say “Y’all.” “You guys” is my go-to. I know many people think it’s too gendered, but it doesn’t bother me. I agree that it is not appropriate for formal writing, although neither is y’all.

  4. My Father-in-Law always said that Guy Fawkes was the only man to enter Parliament with honest intentions!
    Before the 1960s I only remember the word “guy” being used in British English to describe the stuffed figure we used to wheel around the streets in early November begging for money. “Penny for the Guy!”
    in Britain we were only aware of the word “guy” meaning “man” from Hollywood films, particularly westerns, but it really began to impinge on the language when American pop and rock music began to be more common (cf Mary Wells “My Guy”).
    In British English the more common word for a man was “bloke” but over the last 50 years that has been replaced by “guy”.
    The use of the phrase “you guys” in British English is probably no more than 10-15 years old and, like in American English, is gender neutral. It is more common amongst younger people.
    One interesting thing is that because it’s essentially a “borrowed” word to British English it hasn’t gone through the development stages so we never had “guy” as a pejorative term.
    A very interesting interview.

    • Simon, good point – you hear ‘blokes’ a lot less than you used to in the UK. Plus, it’s always in the third person – you don’t ever say ‘you blokes’. Quite often around my parts (north) you’ll here ‘fellas’, probably more than ‘blokes’.

    • Yeah, wot ‘e said. And another thing mate: children used to make an effigy of Guy Fawkes, as stated, and call out “Penny for the Guy!” (a bit like Hallowe’en). The “guy” was usually made of old clothes stuffed with newspapers, and in the 1700s a guy apparently came to mean any oddly-dressed man. Not surprisingly it lost its pejorative sense faster in the colonies since Guy Fawkes Night isn’t a thing there. Another reason it may not have caught on in England is that there already are (were?) very many similar words such as: bloke, chap, fellow, geezer, lad, punter, sort, bod, etc.

      • Interestingly in this colony – New Zealand – Guy Fawkes certainly has been very well known through my lifetime and the date celebrated with all the requisite rhymes, guys and pennies, bonfires and fireworks.
        But in the last couple of decades setting off of home fireworks has been curtailed by limiting sales of these, and civic displays are being moved to honour other occasions instead.

        • Here in Australia we had Guy Fawkes nights annually when I was a child growing up in the 60s in Queensland. And we would put a stuffed rag dummy of a human on top tied to a stake to represent Guy Fawkes as well. The name changed over time to Fire Cracker Night and then just to Cracker Night. Then, because of the stupid things we kids with firecrackers and the permanent injuries which ensued, the use of firecrackers was outlawed and the night faded from view. It was really a celebration and a lot of fun 🥳

          As far as the generic use of the word guy is concerned. I, as a woman, do use it but feel very uncomfortable about it. I am proud to be a woman and having our sex denied and obliterated within our language (in my mind at least) is symptomatic of the negation of the recognition of female lives and female experience which is still widespread in most cultures.
          And, as a further comment on the normalisation of male as the default in the English language, I did an experiment once in a mixed sex 12 step group in the early 2000s. All the group literature used male pronouns throughout, so when it was time for me to lead the group for a meeting I chose as our reading a section from the book “A Woman’s Way Through the 12 Steps” so we female members could feel included. I am not exaggerating when I say it very quickly caused a riot!!! We had a male member brandishing a chair above his head threatening people if they didn’t stop reading, calls for an extraordinary general meeting, and a massive general upheaval and protest. And the book is not at all controversial. It just uses feminine pronouns and expresses the same concepts from a female viewpoint.

          • I forgot to add that I often use “peeps” when sending a message to a group because at least it is inclusive. Not sure if that goes beyond me though.
            For context I should mention I was a researcher in gender socialisation for a time so likely more aware than most of gender imbalances within English. Having said that the recent trend to define your gender by whatever pronoun “feels right” does my head in. There are numerous biological sexes in humans but male and female are definitely the default. How the denial of our biology will play out on societies and on language expression will likely be just such a series of episodes for some future linguistic enthusiast. Yeah Future Kevin Stroud 🤣

          • My experiment arose because I wasn’t the only woman in the group to feel uncomfortable and/or excluded by the use of only male pronouns being used in the literature. A number of women in the group had raised the issue publically (including myself) but had been either ignored or derided. And some women had actually left the group because of it. My choice was not only to help myself and other women feel comfortable and included but also as a way to highlight and demonstrate to the male members of the group what it felt like to have the material defaulted to the other sex’s viewpoint and pronouns. I didn’t expect the outrage which occurred but sadly wasn’t surprised. What was really scary was how quickly objection was taken and how violent it became – both verbally and physically.
            In contrast, most of the women in the group later thanked me for my efforts and felt bouyed.

  5. I was struck by the description of one intermediate step from the name Guy to guy the generic for man was as someone especially ‘fastidious’ about dress, a dandy, a dude.
    The word ‘dude’ has attained a similar very informal status to that of ‘guy,’ although it remains exclusively male.

    • Larry,

      I’ve noted that same trend regarding ‘dude’, and I must admit that living in the south like Melissa, above, I fought saying ‘y’all’ for years. But now, instead of saying something like, “Hey, you guys!”, I’ll say “Hey, dudes!” Or even, when talking to or about my kids, referring to them as “the dudes and dudette” (adding the French -ette feminine diminutive to differentiate my daughter).”

    • “Dude” is so interesting, especially dude-as-discourse marker! check out this article: https://web.stanford.edu/class/linguist150/readings/Kiesling2004.pdf

      In short, “Indeed, the data presented here confirm that dude is an address term that is used mostly by young men to address other young men; however, its use has expanded so that it is now used as a general address term for a group (same or mixed gender), and by and to women. Dude is developing into a discourse marker that need not identify an addressee, but more generally encodes the speaker’s stance to his or her current addressee(s). The term is used mainly in situations in which a speaker takes a stance of solidarity or camaraderie, but crucially in a nonchalant, not-too-enthusiastic manner. Dude indexes a stance of effortlessness (or laziness, depending on the perspective of the hearer), largely because of its origins in the “surfer” and “druggie” subcultures in which such stances are valued. The reason young men use this term is precisely that dude indexes this stance of cool solidarity.”

    • As a Californian, born and raised, I can confirm that, while singular “dude” may have, in the past, been used to refer to a masculine person, today anyone and anything can be a “dude”. Except my mom. She won’t put up with being called “dude”. There is the singular “dudette”, but I honestly haven’t heard anyone use that word in a very long time. Generally, “dudes” is a plural that can be used for any and all genders, at lease here in California.

  6. I agree with all of the comments from my fellow Brits. Guy was always seen as an Americanism until about two decades ago. The pressure from TV and films however finally levered the word into the language. We learn all sorts of new words from our cousins over the pond.

    What I can’t understand is that of all of the conspirators in the gunpowder plot Guy Fawkes is the only one that most people remember.

    • Good point. In England we have a Guy Fawkes Day (November 5th) but not a Robert Catesby Day, despite the fact that Catesby was the chief conspirator and Fawkes (whose real name was actually Guido not Guy) was a paid mercenary.

  7. I tend to use the folks when addressing a mixed gender group. It may be old fashioned but it feels more comfortable to me to address women as folk rather than guys.

  8. I enjoyed the Life of Guy bonus episode. I’ve recently retired from an international energy company. Before retirement, I worked with people in Malaysia, Australia, India, UK, France, Germany, Canada, Mexico, The Netherlands, Brazil and US. English was the common language of business. One expression that was universally understood at all locations was: “You Guys”.

  9. Interesting episode on a topic I’ve been curious about. In recent years, though, I’ve been surprised to find “y’all” in much higher use than I would have expected among young people from all over the country, at least based on what I see on Twitter and hear in podcasts (https://melmagazine.com/en-us/story/why-is-everyone-suddenly-saying-yall). So, I don’t know if ultimately “y’all” will definitely be defeated by “you guys” as contended in the episode. I think this is mostly deliberate from progressives to be more gender neutral/inclusive compared to “you guys” (as pointed out, no one would say “look at those guys” and wonder if it was men or women). I actually wonder if it will break down on political persuasion, with more liberal people, ironically, being more likely to use “y’all” in the future (at least outside the South and below a certain age).

    I think this more widespread use is pulling it from AAVE rather than Southern English, as it is the more “cool” of the two varieties and where slang often originates (see “woke”); as some of the comments above suggest, many people still stigmatize southern English, even if they choose to live in the South, and don’t want to identify with it. I remember a roommate of mine from college (not even that long ago, in 2011), from Western NC; her parents had strong accents, and she had a few non-standard features she didn’t even realize (such as use of the past tense as the past participle, e.g. “I have ate”), but she proudly and adamantly declared “I don’t say y’all” (not an uncommon practice at UNC at the time, but nowadays I bet is much more common for the reason mentioned above); I guess it is among the most salient markers of Southern English..

    • I generally agree that “y’all” is more widespread than Professor Metcalf suggests in his book. To be fair, the book focuses on the history of the word “guy,” not the term “y’all.” I think “you all” is extremely common throughout English, even though it isn’t necessarily contracted outside of the South. The linguist Scott Shay has argued that English speakers will eventually settle on “you all” as the standard second person plural pronoun construction. He also argues that “you all” will eventually be contracted to “yul” in standard English. So if that theory proves to be true, English will end up with “yul” instead of “y’all,” but given the similarities, it seems likely that “y’all” would also be consumed by such a development. Of course, only time will tell.

  10. The one very clear lesson from this episode is that the evolution of language is wonderfully bizarre and unpredictable. That said, google trends does not agree that “ya’ll” is in decline compared to “you guys”. Indeed, the opposite; here’s the google trends comparison.


    Something that we can’t foresee as a result of a seemingly unfathomable chance event will inevitably explain why yet some other set of phrases replaces both of these within 200 years. The only part I’d bet on is that in 200 years we still won’t have a universally accepted plural second person pronoun. If English was going to “fix” that “problem” we would have done it by now!

    I personally hope that this pronoun quirk of English will be a perpetual source of amusement and creativity. I think of it like this: What can more rapidly identify a group and activate solidarity than the pronoun they collectively use, ie their choice of the 2nd person plural? — “Gentleman?!”, “Hey guys!” “Duuudes, wassup?!” “Ya’ll ready?”, etc. IMHO, this “bug” in the language is actually one of its more interesting and amusing features.

    Great episode. As always, thank you Kevin.

    — Zack Simpson; Austin, Texas

  11. It would be nice to see an addition to the show notes pointing out that y’all is widespread in African American English throughout the United States.

    Also, because of the masculine use of the singular ‘guy’, many in the LGBTQ+ community do not consider ‘you guys’ to be gender inclusive. There hasn’t been a widespread consensus on what to replace it with, but I expect it will become less common as more people realize that their intent to use it inclusively doesn’t mean that that’s the impact.

  12. The name ´Guy’ is a French name that goes back to the 10th Century and is still common in France. Guy Fawkes, as a Catholic in England, may have been named after some of the saints named Guy.
    As a child we used to celebrate Guy Fawkes fireworks every year.

  13. I’m from the West of Scotland and we have a very simple solution to the second person plural of you: put an s on it. “Where yous goin?” “Will yous be quiet”. Seems the natural thing to do.

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