Like a good teaching friend of mine, I find myself cringing when someone addresses women or a mixed group of people as, guys or dudes. Language changes & grows, & I find its growth fascinating. Still, I cringe. So why not dive into guys & dudes.
This particular change seems to have started on this side of the pond. The American-based Merriam-Webster's entry on guy lists guy's first meaning as man or fellow, & its second as person, while England-based Collins Dictionary waits until the third definition to note that Americans sometimes address a group of people, whether male or female, as guys.
Dude first appeared in print in New York in 1883, meaning a fastidious man & member of “an aesthetic craze” that was popular at the time. By 1921, dude had lost any hint of luster, and was being used in the country in a derogatory fashion to label city slickers ignorant of country ways. Dudes showed up to work the cattle, their faces shaved, hair oiled, in comically exaggerated hats and chaps. By the 1940s, dude was given a positive shine by zoot suiters acknowledging one another’s trendiness. In the 1960s dude became cool on three fronts: the African American scene, the jazz scene, & the surfing scene. Since then, dude has grown from a mere noun to both noun & interjection meaning nearly anything the speaker intends. Part of this recent change is dude's loss of gender specificity. Dude! Look at Travis & Edna run. Those dudes are fast.
Guy hit the printed page much earlier in 1350, meaning guide or leader. It’s related to the English word guide & the Italian name, Guido. Guy established its nautical meaning by 1603, a rope used to guide a load being raised or lowered. Another meaning of guy was inspired by the infamous Guy Fawkes, instigator of the 1605 Gunpowder Plot (a plan to explode not only the King, but the entire Parliament). This meaning referred to the burning effigies of Guy Fawkes paraded through the streets of London once the plot was revealed. Guy reached the New World in 1836, meaning a grotesquely or poorly dressed man, believed to have been born of all those shabbily constructed effigies. It wasn’t until 1898 that guy simply meant a man or fellow. Today, there are those who argue it maintains that meaning, yet modern American usage has removed any sense of gender. Hey guys, check out that shabby, flaming effigy. Dude!
So followers, what are your thoughts on whether guy has maintained its original gender association, or whether dude is mostly complimentary? Or if you’d like to open up a true can of worms, what do you have to say about guys & dudes?
My thanks go out to this week’s sources, etymonline.com, urbandictionary.com, OxfordDictionaries.com, & the OED.
I write for teens, narrate audio books, bake bread, play music, and ponder the wonder of words in a foggy little town on California's central coast.