“Guys and…”

September 2nd, 2013

This one might seem nit-picky, but stick with me. This is important.
Ladies and Gentlemen, let’s talk about pairs. There’s my first example, “Ladies and Gentlemen.” I’m sure you could make a list of pairs yourself (feel free to try it now). Here are some that I think of:
- Men and women
- Male and female
- Boy and girl
Now that you’re thinking in pairs, let’s do an experiment. How would you finish this pair?
“Guys and…”

If you said “girls,” you’re wrong, but don’t feel bad. The actual pair to “guys” is “gals.” We just don’t use that word very often colloquially.
So why does this matter?
Let’s examine some of the pairs. “Men and women” are terms used for adults. “Gentlemen and Ladies” are very formal and offer a certain level of respect. “Guys and gals” are generic terms. I would say they aren’t really age specific, and they communicate a similar sentiment to “male and female.” All of these examples are complementary.
Now here’s the crux of the issue: relative to the other pairs, “boys and girls” implies a lesser age or maturity. We use those terms for children.
Let me explain the importance of this with a pretty potent example. In our society if a man is acting foolishly or immaturely, we say, “He’s not a man. He’s a boy.” That’s an insult, is it not? And it’s an insult simply because “boy” means childish, so no grown man wants to be called that.
Now bring this back to the pairs discussion. If we insult a man by calling him a boy, what are we implying when we refer to women as girls? It’s rarely explicit, but using “girls” implicitly communicates a belittling concept, and it’s disproportionately applied to women over men. “Guys” gets paired with “girls” all the time!
If you’re curious, try doing a Google search of “guys and girls.” You’ll get a lot of hits like “20 Things Guys and Girls View Completely Differently,” “Guys and Girls’ Cast Photos,” and “Rules That Guys Wished Girls Knew.” But if you Google search “guys and gals,” you’ll find “Guy’s and Gal’s Hair Salon,” “Guys N Gals Sportswear,” and “Gals & Guys Hairstyling.” Did you notice the difference? “Guys and girls” is used commonly in language, whereas “guys and gals” only appears in the name of a business. Suffice it to say, most everyone uses “guys and girls” in common language, as if that’s the normal pairing. The problem is, that pair isn’t complementary. It elevates “guys” above “girls.”
Am I being too picky? I don’t think so. This is a really subtle thing in language, and I believe it matters a lot. Language carries meaning explicitly and implicitly every day, and there’s a power in words that is often underestimated. “The tongue has the power of life and death” (Proverbs 18:21), so I think even the smallest choice of words deserves care and consideration.
I used to say “guys and girls” all the time and I thought nothing of it. But now, whenever I hear that pairing, I think of what is getting communicated subtly and subconsciously to every woman who hears it. Even if women aren’t directly offended by the use of the pair, it’s repeated use starts to imply a hierarchy that isn’t fair or just.
So I challenge you to think about your words. When you use the phrase, or even when you hear it used, think about the implication. Language is a powerful tool, so try and see how you can use it to empower others, rather then tear others down.