We're All Just 'Guys'

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As best as I know, I own the distinction of being the first human being to call our national attention to a linguistic phenomenon.

This was back in 1972, in an article in Sports Illustrated about Robyn Smith, who was then the best female jockey in the land. Smith referred to married couples as "you guys." I was so bemused that someone might actually refer to a woman as a guy that I felt obliged to mention it in the piece.

So, that was 39 years ago. But now, my friends, guy has just taken over. There are no men and women left, no males or females, let alone ladies and gentlemen or boys and girls. It's just guys. Even down South, "y'all" is being replaced by "you guys." Recently, even the president ended his press conference, saying "thank you, guys."

How did females become guys? How did everyone become guys? Remember, too, that a male guy was something of a scoundrel. And a wise guy was a fresh kid, a whippersnapper. In its most other famous evocation, men in Brooklyn said "youse guys." Damon Runyon referred to hustlers, gamblers and other nefarious types as guys.

Now every mother's son is a guy and every mother's daughter, too. If they wrote the musical now, it wouldn't be called Guys and Dolls –– just Guys and Guys.

What accounts for the guy-ification of America? Maybe it has to do with the fact that men had to stop calling grown women "girls." Gals kind of went out, too, so there wasn't anything else available. In sports, for a long time, even after it was gauche for anyone else to call adult females "girls," female athletes still referred to each other as "girls," but that just won't do anymore.

Now, the only place where we allow females to remain forever young is where love is involved: girlfriends and (with males, too), boyfriends. We'll have reached the nadir when it's just guyfriends and guyfriends.

Now that guy has been appropriated by women, men have started to use "dude" a lot more, but that remains mostly in he singular, as a form of address, like "sir" used to be. Like someone will say, "Yo, dude, who are the guys on your team?" Still, nobody addresses anybody as guy. We'll say, "Dude, you're a good guy," but nobody says, "Guy, you're a good dude."

Understand, I have nothing against women becoming guys, too. I'm just tired of everything being guy-ish. Now we're all just ... guys. All guys are created equal. God is a guy now. Your father is just another guy. So is your mother. Guys, start your engines. Happy Valentines, my guy. A pretty guy is like a melody. We're all the same guys under the skin.

Yo, dude, let's stop guying.

Copyright 2011 National Public Radio. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

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