Why ‘Guys’ Is Not An Inclusive Term- And What To Say Instead

While many people these days use ‘guys’ as a gender-neutral term, not everyone does. Some people have no problem with it, but others have a genuine and valid objection.

Guy is a masculine term with a masculine history. It began in 1605 and the Gunpowder Plot, in which a group of conspirators led by Guy- whose name was actually Guido- Fawkes planned to blow up the English Parliament. Guy Fawkes was tried, convicted, and put to death for his crime. Parliament instituted a yearly observation of the date in the ‘5th of November Act’ which encouraged remembrance and thanksgiving that the plot did not succeed. Commemorations of that plot being foiled, quite literally in the nick of time, involved effigies of Guy Fawkes being paraded through towns and then being burned in bonfires. Guy Fawkes Day is still celebrated today, often with bonfires and fireworks, although many people have no idea what they are celebrating.

Over time, the word guy came to be used for young men in general, a practice which became common in the 20th century.

It is, by comparison, very recently that people have been inclined to use guys as a gender-neutral term.

The risk of assuming that it is acceptable to use it inclusively is that it is not automatically an inclusive term: consequently, it can put up barriers for those who do not feel included by it, and even more so for those who feel actively excluded.

Some people may think it’s an overreaction or political correctness gone mad, but I would encourage those people to put themselves in someone else’s shoes and consider the question from a different point of view: perhaps a girl who is continually overlooked while her brothers or other male peers are favoured, a teenager who identifies as female and hates the fact that they have the body of a guy, or a girl who simply wants to be acknowledged as a girl. In each of these examples, the use of guys as an all-inclusive term is hurtful. To each of them, it is just as offensive as calling them anything else that they are not.

In social or close group settings such as family or friendship groups, there is probably more freedom to speak in any way that the members of each group are comfortable with. In more formal environments, or in groups where we are less familiar or intimate, there is less leniency in the way we address one another, and certainly less forgiveness for poor judgement.

In any structured environment, but particularly professionally, we need to speak and behave in ways that do not isolate or offend those we claim to serve or represent. As a teacher, the emotional well-being of each of my students is as important as their physical safety. I don’t want to do anything to harm them or to damage our working relationship. The same is true in my role as a director in a theatre company, and at other times as a cast member. People will learn and perform at their best when they feel valued, included, and respected. If not using a given term helps to achieve that, then not using it is the best thing to do.

Therefore, even though I am not personally offended when people include me in “guys” despite the fact that I am not a guy, I choose to speak otherwise to my students and to the cast and crew when I am directing.

There are other things one can say instead:

  • Everyone
  • Team
  • Folks
  • Students
  • The year level/name, such as Year 9 or Grade 4, according to the conventions of the school and/or locale.

* Not an exhaustive list.

  • People

This can sound impersonal, so try moderating it by using various positive adjectives: happy, busy, friendly… there are many appropriate options. I often walk into my classes and say “Hello, beautiful people!” If anyone responds that they aren’t beautiful, I always say that there are different types of beauty, and inner ones are far more important than outer ones. It may have taken some of them a few days, but now  they happily accept the greeting because they understand what I am communicating by it: I appreciate each of them for their own unique character.

  • Kids

I often mix this up with adjectives too. It’s actually an opportunity to give your students some affirmation while getting their attention.  Try saying , “Okay, cool kids” or “Right-oh, groovy kids” and it’s not hard to see the difference in how they respond.
Once, one of my students said, “We’re not kids anymore.” I apologised and said that I wouldn’t repeat that mistake again.  The next time I wanted their attention, I said, okay, you incredibly mature and responsible young adults.” They applauded, so that is how I have addressed them ever since.

In more relaxed situations, you could also use:

  • Peeps
  • Gang
  • Rockstars
  • Legends
  • Crew

* Also not an exhaustive list.

Sometimes I try to put a fun spin on things:

  • “Right, you rowdy lot!”  I might say this when they are working hard and being anything but rowdy.
  • “Hello, unique individuals!” Again, it’s an opportunity for affirmative language that includes everyone.
  • “Greetings, earthlings!”
  • “Whæt! Geats, Danes, Monsters and Dragons!” has been a favoured greeting while studying ‘Beowulf’, while “Aaaaarrgh me hearties!” Works when studying ‘Treasure Island’.

Finally, whatever you say, remember that tone is everything. The feeling in your words is what signals sincerity and positivity to the people around you.
As the saying goes, it’s not what you say, but for how you say it that matters.

Why ‘Guys’ Is Not An Inclusive Term
#ThingsToConsider #inclusion #vocabulary

Kvetch.

As Victoria enters a five day lockdown designed to halt the spread of that dratted virus after its recent escape from a quarantine hotel, there’s a lot of kvetching going on.

Photo by Andrea Piacquadio on Pexels.com

Yes, it’s our third lockdown. Yes, we all saw this coming when the Australian Open was allowed to go ahead. Naturally, we’d all rather not. We’d all like to be able to do whatever we want to do. I know it’s inconvenient. I had to cancel my plans, too. 

Still, there is nothing to be achieved by blaming anyone. Contrary to what some people like to say, our state government is not a dictatorship. They’re doing their best to manage a pandemic, balancing the health of the community with what millions of individuals perceive as their rights and needs.

The fact is, this virus is highly contagious, airborne and invisible. The pandemic is not yet over, and these things are going to happen from time to time. It may actually be a fact of life for the foreseeable future, even when we are careful about wearing masks, social distancing and sanitising everything. One of the fundamental truths of a pandemic disease is that it is not easily controlled: that’s how it became a pandemic in the first place. At best, it can be well managed.

At least it’s only five days this time, not months like the last one.

Even so, I have lost count of how many times I have felt the need to tell people to stop kvetching about it in the last 24 hours.

Kvetch is a wonderful word, donated to English from Yiddish in the mid-20th century. It is as satisfying to say as ‘bitch’ with far less possibility of offending anyone, and it is so much more expressive than other synonyms such as ‘whine’, ‘complain’ or ‘moan’.

Perhaps the only synonym that is as expressive is the one that my grandfather used when we were kids: “Stop your bellyaching,” I haven’t thought about that expression in decades, and it has just come back to me riding on a wave of memory and emotion. I think I’ll have to start saying that now, too.

Kvetch.
#wordsofwisdom #pandemic

Dysphemism.

Euphemism— using neutral or pleasant terms in place of offensive or negative terms— has been mentioned multiple times on this blog.

Photo by Maria Orlova on Pexels.com

Most people, though, have never heard of dysphemism, which is the opposite practice: using harsh or negative terms in place of neutral or positive language.

To refer to dying as “passing away” or “graduating to heaven” is euphemism.
To refer to it as “kicking the bucket” or “carking it” is dysphemism.

To refer to having a cold as “being under the weather” is euphemism.
To refer to it as “having the plague” is dysphemism.

English is full of examples of dysphemism. What’s your favourite?
Alternatively, is there one you really dislike?

Dysphemism.
#language #EnglishLanguage #blog

Beyond Tired.

It’s almost the end of a school year that has been perpetually exhausting. Every teacher I know is beyond worn out.

I’ve used the words ‘tired’ and ‘exhausted’ so much in recent times, they have started to lose their currency. Not only are they becoming cliched, neither one really adequately describing the profundity or the long-term nature of the tiredness we’re feeling.

So, in the interests of communicating more effectively, I’d like to suggest some more expressive words to use instead.

Toilworn is a lovely word that reflects the nature of the tiredness that comes from hard work. It can also be used for something showing the effects of that kind of tiredness, or of the work that caused it.

Forswunk, as I’ve mentioned before, is one of my favourites. It’s a very old word that means exhausted by hard work.

Knackered is a term that is certainly expressive, and remarkably pleasing to say. I don’t know where else in the world people say this, but it’s certainly well understood in Australia as a term that means absolutely worn out.

If you have any other suggestions, I’d love to hear them.

Beyond Tired.
#language #vocabulary #tired

Awesome.

Image by spirit111 on Pixabay

“Awesome!” is an expression that has become widely used in response to things  or experiences that are really good and very positive and, in my opinion, has become greatly cheapened by overuse.

Dating back to the late 16th century, ‘awesome’ used to be an expression of something that generated profound reverence or fear.

This was the original sense of the word ‘awe’, which goes back to around the turn of the 13th century. It was the term used in English translations of the Bible to describe the human response to the presence of God or of angels: deep fear and worship at the same time.

The phrase “stand in awe” dates back to the early 15th century. The phrase “awe-inspiring’ was first recorded in 1814.

Sources:
Macquarie Dictionary
Etymonline

Awesome.
#words #language #awesome

Doomscrolling.

Image by geralt on Pixabay.

Doomscrolling is the act of continually updating and reading  one’s social media feed for the latest news on a significant event. It is closely related to doomsurfing, which is scouring the Internet for the same kind of information.

The term has been around for a few years, but found new popularity as a hashtag earlier  this year, predominantly in response to Covid-19. It is surging again on Twitter today as people try to stay updated on the results of the US election.

It may be a relatively recently coined term, but it’s fair to say the activity to which it refers has probably existed for as long as  easy access to the Internet, especially via platforms such as Twitter and Facebook, has been available.

It’s an understandable behaviour – we want to stay informed, after all. These things matter. We want to know. However, it can also be a very effective self-torture device, as it compels us to focus on what is actually causing our anxiety and distress.  It seems that the worse the news is, the more people tend to keep on watching or reading. Some people even become fixated on that event, to the exclusion of other things, no matter how sad or angry it makes them.

The term also hints at the subjectivity of the behaviour: what one interprets as ‘doom’ is likely to be the exact inverse of what another person interprets it to be. It all depends on what outcome one is hoping for whether the course of events is classified as doom or a reprieve.

A highly relevant and helpful Twitter account is Doomscrolling Reminder Lady, who repeatedly tells people to get off the internet and take care of themselves instead.

It’s good advice.

Sources:
Merriam-Webster
Doomscrolling, Explained
Urban Dictionary

Doomscrolling
#words #DoomScrolling #behavior

Spooky.

Spooky is a word that is fun to say, and feels good in the mouth when you say it. It is perceived as a more positive term than its synonyms, so it can be used to make scary things seem less threatening or terrifying. Perhaps that is why it’s used so much around the time of Halloween. 

Spooky is an adjective that means frightening, scary or creepy, or which is used to describe someone who is easily frightened.

The earliest written record of spooky to mean ‘frightening’ dates back to 1854, and to describe someone who was easily frightened goes back to 1926.

Spooky is derived from the Dutch word spook which is much older. It came into English from Dutch, where it had been used for centuries to mean ‘ghost’.  it shares a Germanic root with similar words in other languages: the Swedish call a scarecrow a ‘spok’, while the Norwegians cale a ghost or spectre a ‘spjok’.

The use of spook as a verb, meaning to move or act like a ghost dates to 1867, and meaning to haunt goes back to 1881, while the sense of startling or unnerving someone is first recorded in 1935. 

In the 20th century, spook took on some new meanings. During World War I, spook was used as a term for a wireless operator or signaller in the army. In the 1940s, people began to use spook as a term for a spy or undercover agent.

So, when you see or hear the word ‘spooky’, remember that it’s more than just a fun word: it also has a long and interesting history.

Sources:
Etymonline
Merriam-Webster
Macquarie Dictionary

Spooky.
#words #spooky #spookyseason

Tmesis: Abso-flaming-lutely!

Tmesis— pronounced teh-MEE-sis—  is an unusual word that many people will never have heard of, even though it’s the name for something we do frequently and quite naturally.

Tmesis is the name given to that linguistic behaviour by which we divide a word and insert another word into the middle. In the 21st century, the inserted word is often a swear word, but it doesn’t have to be. 

Image by hpgruesen on Pixabay

We do it to add emphasis and increase the strength of what we’re saying. 

The Ancient Greek word temnein meant ‘to cut’, and from that came the word tmesis, which meant ‘cutting’. It refers to the cutting or division of the first word in order to insert the second. 

The practice is centuries old. There are examples of it in Old Irish and Scandinavian poetry, although the earliest written examples of it being used in English only date back to the 1500s. 

Shakespeare used tmesis in a number of his plays:

  • “This is not Romeo, he’s some other where.” — Romeo and Juliet
  • “How heinous ever it be” — Richard II
  • “That man – how dearly ever parted.” — Troilus and Cressida

Tmesis also exists in the poetry of John Donne:


“In what torn ship soever I embark,
That ship shall be my emblem,
What seas soever swallow me, that flood
Shall be to me an emblem of thy blood.” — Hymn to Christ

From these examples, it is clear that the device has always been used to strengthen the idea or emotion being communicated, which is exactly how it’s still used today. 

In Australia, where we seem to love a good swear word and the power it gives our expressions, tmesis is so common that it seems to me to be part of our linguistic identity. Inserting a term such as ‘flaming” or ‘flipping’, or one’s preferred swear word, into words and phrases is a standard part of our speech. From “abso-flaming-lutely’ to “no freaking way!”, Australians have made tmesis their own without ever knowing that it was a literary device or that it has a name. 

Tmesis: Abso-flaming-lutely!
#language #English #grammar #speaking #englishvocabulary #wordynerdbird #blogpost 

Nuclear Does Not Rhyme With Circular

This post might come across as some kind of linguistic snobbery, and while that’s not my motivation, it is a risk I am willing to take. 

The common mispronunciation of nuclear is something that drives me absolutely nuts. 

So many people pronounce it as nucular ( nyoo-kyoo-lar) but that is not how it is spelt or pronounced. I’ve even heard scientists on the radio and TV who say it that way, despite the fact that scientists of all people should know better. Did they get through however many of years study at university calling the central body of a cell the nuculus? I think not.

Nuclear is a three syllable word, pronounced nyoo-klee-ar.

If someone can say the words ‘new’ and ‘clear’ correctly, they should be able to manage ‘nuclear’ by just mashing those two words together. Think of it as linguistic nuclear fusion. 

It really isn’t rocket science. 

On Tenterhooks.

Image Credit: Daniel_Nebreda

This morning I used the term “on tenterhooks” and then wondered where it came from.

It’s a term that means painful anticipation or being kept in suspense, commonly used by English speakers to describe any situation of tension or anxiety while waiting.

I imagined something being suspended or hung up, waiting for something to happen— which is exactly how I felt when I said it. I imagined the hooks to be larger and more cruel than they actually were, perhaps as some form of medieval torture or punishment, like hanging someone on a wall or in mid air using hooks to hold the body. That is an indication of several truths about me: my own feelings at the time, my love of medieval history, and my horror author’s tendency toward macabre imagination.

As it turns out, I was overthinking that part.

A little research at etymonline.org and worldwidewords.org informed me that it’s a very old word from the early 14th century that relates to the preparation of cloth, particularly woven woollen fabric, by hanging it up on a frame known as a tenter to stretch, straighten the weave, and dry. Tenter hooks were bent nails that held the fabric in place on the frame.

By the early 1500s, people spoke of being on the tenters to express being in suspense or waiting anxiously. The phrase “on tenterhooks” appeared in print for the first time in Tobias Smollett’s Roderick Random in 1748.

It is related to the word tent in that the word was used to describe the way in which hides, skins or coarse cloth were hung over a framework of poles to create a temporary dwelling, which then came to be called a tent.

Both tent and tenterhooks come to English from the Latin, tendere, meaning to stretch, via the old French word tente. They are related to the words tense, tension, intense and the phrase highly strung.

Although the ideas have come to be closely associated, tenterhooks and suspense are not related words.