Monday, February 25, 2008

On the Unisexification of "Guy," "Dude," "Man," and "Bro"

Today, the universe got its sweet, sweet revenge on me for the 19 and a half years of hideous jokes it has had to endure on my behalf.

A Wrathful English Major walked into a bar...


As I sit here, nursing my bruised brow with an entirely fictitious slab of cold meat, I am lead to ponder the incidents which took place prior to my unfortunate, schadenfreude-enducing encounter with a piece of entirely too-solid metal. This particular collision took place at the school book store, where I had gone to pick up some graph paper and a blue book for my history exam. I was noodling throughout the notebooks section, looking for one posessing the particular variety of gridded paper I needed to complete my math homework. As I did so, a very, very tall young gentleman rounded the corner and proceeded to nearly trip over my very, very short self.

"Woah. Sorry, man," he said, and went on his way.

I did not think much of this initially. (I am, however, beginning to think I use that phrase too much.) However, later, at the checkout counter, the young woman handling purchases said to me,

"Thank you very much, guy."

I believe I have mentioned before that I am female. And while I have myself been known to use phrases such as "guy" and "dude" in strictly unisex senses, I can't say I've ever seen "guy," as a direct term of address, used for a woman before. Certainly, a group of females can easily be "the guys," and in some registers of colloquial American English, any person one doesn't know particularly well is a "man." The sense of "man" meaning "all of humankind," double-X and XY chromosones included, has been around longer than that, even. But "guy" as a direct term of address for a woman?

The phrase "guy," meaning "generic bloke," itself stems from the masculine name "Guy." In my little corner of the States, it is rarely used as a term of direct address as it is--while I certainly know of its existance, due for the most part to its oddly frequent use in Mario and Zelda games translated by Nintendo of America, it isn't something I tend to hear in everyday use. So being called "guy" today, by a rather spry young blonde girl with a spray of curly hair, no less, seemed distinctly out of place in my view of reality. Had she called me "dude," I don't think I would have noticed. I myself have been using "dude" as a generic term of address for yonks, and the etymology of "dude" is fairly generic and unisex. (I believe--though please, do correct me if I err--that Charles Dickens coined the phrase "dude" from the union of "dud" and "attitude," though this may simply be literary apocrypha.) But "guy" seemed a bit oddly specific to me.

Of course, it may simply be my unfamiliarity with it that is causing me this bemusement. Perhaps the young lady would have been equally startled had I said, in response, "You're welcome, dude."

I've been thinking about this in a roundabout way for a while now, as I've seen male fictional characters of various origins refer to their female friends as "bro." But it wasn't until today I really began to consider it.

This is to say nothing of Marcy, who still hasn't figured out that Peppermint Patty doesn't like being called "sir."

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