Washington Post, “An Unnecessarily Long and Surprisingly Fascinating History of ‘Guys’”

October 25, 2014

Caitlin Dewey, “An Unnecessarily Long and Surprisingly Fascinating History of ‘Guys’” (Washington Post, The Intersect, Oct. 24, 2014)

By the early 1930s, says Ben Zimmer — a linguist and frequent commentator on everything from “stalking” to “czars” —Americans were just beginning to use “guys” to indicate people of either gender. But guys was always a really weird word, its exact definition changing based on context. …

It makes sense, then, that Zimmer credits modern Internet usage of the word to the sarcasm-inflected headlines of Gawker and the Awl, sites that have long specialized in a sort of cool, removed irony. But even they may have had help: The popular sitcom “Friends,” which ran from 1994 to 2004 — notably, a time at which many Awl and Gawker writers were coming of age — used the word “guys” so frequently that language researcher Theresa Heyd used it as a launching point for her 2010 discourse on language change.

“I wouldn’t discount ‘Friends’ as an influence on how people currently use ‘guys,’ ” Zimmer said. “Perhaps there’s an echo of the staginess of ‘Friends’ when people use ‘guys’ now, which adds to the ironic distance someone can create by starting a tweet or snarky headline” that way.

Read the rest here.

Previous post:

Next post: