Laurie Barber | Can a guy be a gal?

Does the word guy refer to women as well as men?

Maybe it once referred to men only, but in my opinion in now refers to women as well as men.

A lot of publicity has been given lately to the question of whether guy can refer to women as well as men. I don’t know how the subject reached the news columns, but it obviously started with somebody who had little else to do.

The American Heritage Dictionaries editors say in their book Word Histories and Mysteries that the word is used for “a group of persons of either sex”, Wilfred Funk says the word is used as a synonym for an individual”, several dictionaries use the word for “fellow”. Fellow can refer to women. Wikipedia says it can generally refer to people of either gender and I can quote myself as saying in a column piece 21 years ago that guy applies equally to women as well as men.

I found a few other sites that said words have the meanings that usage gives them. I can understand this. I have found that words are constantly changing in their meaning.

Quora said guys was gender-neutral. (Gender, that should mean sex, is covered in another column).

Admittedly, some old dictionaries said guys refers only to men, but these dictionaries are gradually changing their definitions.

Most dictionaries said guys covered persons of grotesque appearance, but I know this is not always the case. Don’t blame me. I’m just quoting the books. President Bush, the earlier one, once called the president of Jordan a guy and got away with it.

I think guy was a hangover from the time of Guy Fawkes.

Guy Fawkes, also known as Guido Fawkes, was born in York in 1570 into a Protestant family but later converted to Catholicism.

He fought for many years war on the side of Catholic Spain in what was called the Eighty Years War.

Then, because of his knowledge of gunpowder, he was conscripted by a group of English Catholics to blow up the houses of parliament and restore a Catholic monarch to the throne. But he was discovered and he leapt to his death to escape being drawn and quartered. He was 35 years old.

Since then November 5 was commemorated and, in Britain at least, his effigy was burned on a bonfire and usually this was accompanied by a fireworks display. These effigies came to be referred to as guys.

Some people didn’t like Guy Fawkes and this was why Guy was regarded as a person of grotesque appearance. 

Guy has many other uses. For instance, running away, to direct the course of a vehicle, to command an army, to manage an office, to direct as person in his actions.

LIGHTING UP: Guy Fawkes Night is associated with fireworks in the United Kingdom, a reference to his plan to blow up parliament.

LIGHTING UP: Guy Fawkes Night is associated with fireworks in the United Kingdom, a reference to his plan to blow up parliament.